Bob Knight, Champion Basketball Coach With Fiery Temper, Is Dead at 83
College coach won national titles with Indiana, led Texas Tech to NCAA tournament bids
Bob Knight, the fiery basketball coach who won national championships at Indiana University but whose furious temper eventually cost him his most prominent job, died at home in Bloomington, Ind., his family said Wednesday.
He was 83 years old. His family’s statement didn’t cite a cause.
Knight was one of the most influential college-basketball coaches ever. He won national championships at Indiana University in 1976, 1981 and 1987. His first NCAA title team was the last in Division I men’s college basketball to finish with an undefeated record and established Knight as a master at a young age. Knight, who also played for Ohio State’s title-winning team in 1960, was inducted into basketball’s Hall of Fame in 1991, while he was still coaching.
But he was widely known outside the basketball world for his red-hot demeanor during games. Knight was the archetype of an authoritarian coach. He was as volatile and violently intense as anyone in the sport, accused at various times in his career of punching colleagues, bullying subordinates and fans, head-butting players, hitting opposing coaches, assaulting a police officer and chucking a potted plant at a secretary…
Got to listen to a little of an interview he did with DP back in 2014. He was still full of acid about the way he was run from IU. Apparently IU brought him in for an appreciation ceremony in 2020 just before the shutdown.
He was bombastic and controversial even for that era. In today’s game, he could never be a head coach. Well, his passing definitely marks an end of an era, and there are a lot of pieces of his coaching tree out there teaching players today.
Knight was a complicated person indeed. In terms of the X’s and O’s of basketball, he is perhaps the best ever. The guy was brilliant and knew the game. He could teach hard-nosed defense, rebounding, and teamwork like no one else. He was highly successful and has an impressive coaching tree.
But like Majerus, who was also a tactical genius and a master of the fundamentals, Knight was a jerk to people. His antics would never fly in today’s game. The stories of his poor treatment of others are legendary, as are his outbursts on the court and in press conferences.
On the other hand, his teams were never on probation or cited by the NCAA for violating rules. His teams had an incredibly high graduation rate, and most of his former players revered him.
It does seem like those coaches are a thing of the past but the game seems softer and less intense. The few teams that still play really tough win most of the games against softer teams. SDSU was a really physical team when they went on that great run last year.
I don’t necessarily want a jerk for a coach but we could use some more toughness.
Interestingly, my aunt was a high school girls basketball coach in Nevada for many, many years. She had a lot of connections and somehow scored a seat at the infamous press conference in Boise, Idaho, at the 1995 NCAA tournament when Knight went ballistic on the SID in charge of the press conference. Anyone who hasn’t seen that needs to watch it on YouTube.
But Knight got his own medicine sometimes. There’s another story of when the Indiana wrestling coach was running around the indoor track during one of Knight’s basketball practices. Knight screamed at him to get the F out out of there. The wrestling coach came down and pinned Knight to the wall and told him to never behave like that to him again. He didn’t.
The United States boycotted the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow due to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The U.S. Olympic basketball team competed in the 1979 Pan American games in Puerto Rico sort of as consolation competition. Danny Vranes was a member of the team. Head coach Bobby Knight was charged with hitting a local policeman. Shortly there after the U.S. faced medal contender Puerto Rico. The crowd was loud and unruly, throwing debris at the ugly Americans. The TV announcer briefly interviewed Vranes and asked what he thought of the wild scene, Vranes replied, reminds me of playing at the University of New Mexico Pit.
This piece from John Feinstein (the author of A Season on the Brink, the definitive work about Knight) is really excellent.
When the Hoosiers finished their undefeated 1976 season, Knight walked out of the Philadelphia Spectrum with his pal Bob Hammel, sports editor of the Bloomington Herald-Telephone. Hammel remembered being thrilled and saying to Knight, “You did it, you did it, you won the championship!”
Knight’s response? “Shoulda been two.” He was still upset that his 1975 team had finished 31-1, losing in the region final to Kentucky. Knight never got over losses — it was part of his greatness as a coach and his frequent unhappiness as a person.
After Brand fired him, he vowed never to return to Indiana and even made a point of visiting archrival Purdue to “show” Brand. When the 1987 championship team gathered for a 20th reunion, Knight refused to attend. The same thing happened when the 1981 title team gathered for a 25th reunion. In 2016, the undefeated 1976 team had a 40th reunion, and Knight refused to come. He was still showing Brand — who had been dead for seven years.
The person most hurt by Knight’s absences was Knight.
They lost in 1975 because Scott May, the leading scorer, broke his arm in a late regular season game.
Knight has been very significant in Utah’s tradition. He pioneered the motion offense/man defense scheme that Jerry Pimm and Majerus employed with such success. When I was a manager for the Utes in 1976-77, the coaches talked about Knight constantly, with reverence. Gerry Gimelstob, Pimm’s most important assistant, had been a Knight assistant at Indiana.
Majerus’ emulation of Knight is of course very evident. He was from the Midwest too and was Al McGuire’s assistant at Marquet during some of Knight’s best years at Indiana, just down the road from Milwaukee.
Knight was a great man, in my book. Always graduated his players, never cheated, and got the most out of them. Three national championships; imagine if he had recruited like his protege Coach K. Magnificent coaching tree, including Coach K.