Knight delivers farewell speech to students

Thursday, September 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) _ Bob Knight, caustic and controversial his entire career, left Indiana University as a peacemaker.

In a 20-minute farewell speech in which he did not use a single profanity, Knight mended a few fences, linked today's students with Hoosier basketball fans of generations past, urged support for his former team and its new coach and even managed a kiss for his wife.

When he left Dunn Meadow on Wednesday night, even Knight appeared choked with emotion.

``People don't see that side of coach. It's just sad that they had to wait until now,'' said forward Tom Geyer, who was in the crowd estimated by police at about 6,000.

Some students watched from the roof of a fraternity house across the street. Others climbed trees that ringed the meadow, the site of many campus protests in the 1960s and '70s. Many hoisted signs of support for Knight, who was fired as men's basketball coach Sunday for violating a zero-tolerance behavior policy imposed by university president Myles Brand.

Knight never mentioned Brand by name, and he took only a few brief jabs at the administration.

``I probably would have done the same thing if I were in his shoes,'' said university vice president Christopher Simpson, who called Knight's farewell ``an awfully gracious speech.''

Knight made a special point to urge the students to forget about the student who played a part in his firing.

``Let that kid be a student and let him get on with life,'' Knight said. ``This thing, believe me, had happened to me long before that situation took place. That kid is not responsible for my not coaching at Indiana, and make sure you understand that.''

Knight was fired three days after he grabbed and berated freshman Kent Harvey, who had called out, `Hey, what's up, Knight?'' a greeting Knight regarded as disrespectful.

Several players threatened to transfer after Knight was fired, but all decided to remain when assistant Mike Davis, who had recruited many of them, was selected interim coach by athletic director Clarence Doninger on Tuesday.

``This is a great university,'' Knight told the students. ``Trustees, administrations, faculties change ... but this university has really stood the test of time, because the really good people that take care of you in the classroom and in every other way far outnumber the people that have agendas that don't involve the students first of all.''

He urged them to continue to support Davis and the team.

``When you go into Assembly Hall for the first game this year, I want you to remember what your moms and dads, your brothers and sisters, your aunts and uncles and friends that have been in those seats before you have meant to our basketball team. And I want you to mean the same thing to this basketball team,'' he said.

``People change over the years, and that changes situations, for good and for bad, but don't let the student body, the energy, the enthusiasm the student body has had for basketball, please don't let that change. If you want to do something to remember me by, do that. Continue the same energy, the same enthusiasm the students before you have given to basketball. I'll be very proud of you for doing that.''

Simpson said students have always been important to Knight and he was glad Knight was able to speak to them Wednesday night.

``Twenty-nine years is a long time. There were some highs and lows, but I certainly didn't take offense at anything he said,'' Simpson said.

Neither did the students, who greeted Knight with applause and cheers as he approached the platform at the edge of Dunn Meadow and then kissed his wife, Karen, as she dabbed her eyes with tissue.

``I hope what he just did won't be termed inappropriate physical contact,'' Karen Knight said, drawing laughter.

One banner in the crowd read ``Free 29 years of IU junk,'' but most signs supported Knight:

``Politics + a punk + cowards railroading of a great man'' ... ``Career victories, Knight: 763, Brand/Doninger: 0'' ... ``Bring back Bobby'' ... ``My degree is from Knight school.''

Colin Banta, 19, a freshman from Griffith, said Knight made his point with the administration ``in a subtle way. ... To most people here, they would have been on his side no matter what.''

David Smuckler, 18, a freshman from St. Louis, said Knight conducted himself ``better than he normally does. ... It was a good way to say goodbye to Indiana.''

Julia Gilham, 18, a freshman from Indianapolis, said she was not a fan of Knight but came to the rally ``because it's like history in the making ... because IU basketball is such a huge tradition.''