Knight dismissed at Indiana

Monday, September 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The 29-year tenure of Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight came to an end Sunday when school officials determined the fiery coach had consistently violated a 4-month-old "zero-tolerance policy" that had been placed on him because of inappropriate behavior.

Indiana president Myles Brand told Mr. Knight he was fired during a 10-minute telephone conversation Sunday morning. Mr. Knight, 59, who was on a fishing and hunting trip in Canada, was given the chance to resign but told Mr. Brand he had done nothing wrong.

Over the years, Mr. Knight's temper and combative nature had gotten him into trouble with Puerto Rico officials, the Big Ten Conference, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, women's groups, opposing coaches and his own players, assistants and university staff. But actions in the last four months finally led to his undoing.

Mr. Knight's firing came on the heels of an incident last week on campus in which he grabbed the arm of a 19-year-old Indiana student, Kent Harvey, and lectured him about manners. Mr. Harvey reportedly had yelled: "Hey, what's up, Knight?" The investigation into the altercation is ongoing, but Mr. Brand said that Mr. Knight had initiated physical contact and that there had been an "uncomfortable exchange."

Since the incident became public, Mr. Harvey and his two brothers have received several threats by telephone and e-mail, according to their stepfather.

Mr. Brand, at a news conference Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis, said there had been several instances during the last four months in which Mr. Knight had "acted in a way that was both defiant and hostile." The continuing trend is what led to Mr. Knight's dismissal, not a single act, Mr. Brand said.

"These acts illustrate a very troubling pattern of inappropriate behavior that makes it clear that Coach Knight has no desire ... to live within the zero-tolerance guidelines we set down on May 15," Mr. Brand said. "We gave Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight one last chance, and he has failed to take full advantage of that opportunity."

Specific reasons

Mr. Brand cited several actions by Mr. Knight since May 15 that IU officials deemed in violation of the zero-tolerance policy:

Mr. Knight's unwillingness to follow the chain of command with athletic director Clarence Doninger.

Mr. Knight's attempts to embarrass IU officials publicly and privately with "angry and inflammatory remarks about university officials and the Board of Trustees."

Mr. Knight's failure to attend alumni events.

Mr. Knight's verbal abuse of a high-ranking female university official.

Lack of cooperation by Mr. Knight in fulfilling sanctions placed on him.

Mr. Knight's refusal to postpone the hunting-fishing trip Friday night at the request of Mr. Brand because of the ongoing investigation regarding the latest incident.

"Unquestionably, this is the most difficult decision I have ever had to make, because Bob Knight is a legendary coach at a school with a legendary basketball reputation," Mr. Brand said.

Mr. Knight will be paid his base salary of $170,000 through the length of his contract, which expires June 30, 2002. Indiana will immediately begin looking for an interim coach for the 2000-01 season. Later, a search committee will seek a permanent coach.

Different responses

Indiana basketball players were consulted by Mr. Brand on Saturday evening. Players who attended the news conference remained supportive of Mr. Knight.

"It's awfully hard to live under the guidelines that the university gave him," Indiana player Tom Geyer told The Associated Press. "I'm not really sure that I could live by those guidelines."

But a majority of IU trustees supported Mr. Brand's decision.

"We regret the coach's actions have resulted in this conclusion," trustee Fred Eichhorn said. "But this is the best answer for the university at this time. I have great respect for what Coach Knight has accomplished. But his attitude toward university officials and his peers is intolerable."

Mr. Knight's stormy career at Indiana included three national titles, 11 Big Ten titles and the current streak of 15 straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

Mr. Knight retained his job last May only after he agreed to a strict code of personal conduct, which called on him to demonstrate civility in public and make no physical contact with his players, staff and school community. Mr. Knight also agreed to a three-game suspension during the coming season and a $30,000 fine.

The sanctions came after university officials investigated allegations earlier this year by former player Neil Reed, who claimed he was choked by Mr. Knight during a 1997 practice. Video footage of the practice, which was studied by a forensic expert chosen by the trustees, indicated that Mr. Knight grabbed Mr. Reed's neck for about 2 seconds.

Mr. Brand and the trustees conducted a seven-week investigation and interviewed 29 people, including school employees, student managers, trainers and seven former players.

The investigation revealed that Mr. Knight had altercations with athletic director Doninger and former assistant coach Ron Felling. It also showed that he once threw a vase in the direction of a secretary and later walked into her office, cursed and came toward her in anger before Mr. Doninger stepped in. Mr. Knight personally promised Mr. Brand that he would improve his behavior, but Mr. Brand said he never did.

Other high-profile incidents included being charged with and later convicted of hitting a police officer in Puerto Rico in 1979 while coach of the U.S. Pan American team; throwing a chair across the court in a 1985 game; and kicking his son, who was playing for Indiana, on the bench in a 1993 game.

'This is about integrity'

Mr. Knight ranks No. 5 in total victories in Division I basketball history. But in recent years, Indiana has been an also-ran in the postseason and hasn't won a Big Ten championship since 1993. Four times in the last six seasons, Indiana has failed to make it out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Mr. Brand has consistently denied that it was only in recent years, when the team was not winning championships, that Mr. Knight's behavior was questioned.

"We have been in the NCAA Tournament 15 years," Mr. Brand said. "We have a successful team. ... This is about integrity."