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Should Indiana University Have Fired Bobby Knight?

Aired May 15, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, Indiana University makes its call about the future of embattled basketball coach Bob Knight.


MYLES BRAND, PRESIDENT, INDIANA UNIVERSITY: After lengthy, very difficult deliberations, I recommended to the trustees that Bob Knight continue his duties as basketball coach, but I also recommended that he do so under very specific, very firm guidelines.


NOVAK: Coach Knight stays for now, but should the university have fired him?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak.

In the CROSSFIRE, John Feinstein, author of "A Season on the Brink: A Year With Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers," and in Atlanta, Alan Henderson, a power forward with the Atlanta Hawks and former basketball player at Indiana University.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Bob Knight stays as Indiana University's basketball coach, but he'll have to transform himself to avoid being bounced immediately. That was university President Myles Brand's verdict today after a long investigation.

He suspended the terrible-tempered Hoosier coach for three games, fined him $30,000, and set strict guidelines, really strict: The next time Bobby blows his top, even in a press conference, he's history.


BRAND: These are tough directives. We're holding him to zero tolerance. We're taking steps to ensure his pattern of behavior changes. If it does not, he will be terminated.


NOVAK: The coach agreed, saying -- quote -- "I have absolutely no problems with the guidelines. The establishment of proper guidelines can in the long run help me to become a better coach." End quote.

It all started a few months ago when a former player said Knight choked him in 1997. The IU Board of Trustees launched an investigation into a career filled with outbursts, including chair throwing.

Those 29 seasons included three national championships and 23 wins a season for a coach who's racked up 763 career wins at Army and Indiana.

Did that record save Bob Knight? Should he have been shown the gate? Or is he the victim of a kinder, gentler era in intercollegiate athletics? -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Alan Henderson, good evening.


PRESS: OK. Now, I understand that you read John Feinstein's book about Bob Knight. You still decided to go to Indiana. You played under the coach for four years.

How did you get out alive?

HENDERSON: Yes, I definitely read the book, great book, probably read it twice actually before I went there to make sure I knew what I was getting into.

I was raised in Indianapolis, and everybody around there was a big Indiana University fan. So I knew of coach Knight's reputation exactly what I was getting into. But I knew if I went there and worked hard, went to class and stayed out of trouble, that in the long run coach Knight would be there for me, whatever I needed. And to this day, if I ever call him for anything, he's there for me.

PRESS: But I've got to admit, I mean, I was really shocked today. I thought the hammer was going to come down on this guy. I mean, he's accused of choking a player. He didn't deny it. It's hard to deny. We just saw the videotape again.

I mean, shouldn't that -- why shouldn't he had been canned? I mean, that's a fireable offense, isn't it, Alan?

HENDERSON: There were a few things they were investigating, and as you saw in the press conference, some of those allegations that could not decisively let you know what happened either way.

So he's done so many good things for the program, so many good things for the kids that come through there -- I play with a lot of guys that have gone on to do great things. Lawyers. He's put out doctors, people that are strong in the business area. Myself, I'm in the NBA now, and I know I wouldn't be there if I hadn't had gone there and learned about the game of basketball from coach Knight. So he's done so many great things, I'm glad that he's getting a chance to stick around.

PRESS: No doubt he's done a lot of great things. He's done a lot of things that people would not be too proud of.

I mean, I would agree with you if this were the first offense, OK, but if you look back over the last 20 years, some of the temper tantrums include these. These are just a few, I might add: firing a blank shot at a reporter; stuffing a fan in a garbage can; striking a Puerto Rican policeman; throwing a vase at a secretary; and tossing a chair across the court. We just saw that on the video.

I mean, Alan, shouldn't this guy have been fired a long time ago?

HENDERSON: I don't think so. Like -- the university dealt with all those allegations and things that went on, and the positive that he brings to the university, the amount of money that he brings into the program, the good things he does, exposing Indiana University across the country -- I know for a fact there are people that I was in school with that told me they came Indiana University simply because of the basketball program. And coach Knight's synonymous with that.

And you know, people do things. In 20 years, you could look at a lot of people. You could find a few things that would look pretty funny if you looked into people's backgrounds.

So you know, he made some mistakes. He's acknowledged that his temper has been a problem, and that's something he's working on.

So I think they give him a chance here. They have the zero tolerance program. Coach Knight said he'll be able to stick to it, and that's that.

I mean, it's pretty cut and dry now.

NOVAK: John Feinstein, surely you won't let your animus toward Bob Knight lead you to think that the coach should have been fired today.

JOHN FEINSTEIN, AUTHOR, "A SEASON ON THE BRINK": Bob, I don't have animus toward Bob Knight. He built my house, OK, to begin with.


NOVAK: Because you trashed him in the book.

FEINSTEIN: No, I didn't trash him in the book, and I think Alan will back me up on that. The book says that everything Alan Henderson just said is true, except for the fact that Alan would have been in the NBA wherever he went to college. I saw him play in high school. But everything else Alan said is true.

He's a great coach. He is loyal to his players. They do graduate and they do play by the rules. Having said all that, I really believe that you start the blame on this with the authorities at Indiana, because at no point in 29 years did anybody call Bob Knight in and say: "Coach, you can't stuff people in trash cans. You can't throw chairs across the court. You can't take your team off the floor during a game against the Soviet Union, and if you do it again, we'll discipline you."

NOVAK: So you agree that he shouldn't have been fired today.

FEINSTEIN: I think the best thing for everybody in this, Bob Knight and Indiana, would have been for him to resign or be fired, because...

NOVAK: Oh, you think he should have been fired?

FEINSTEIN: Yes, yes. And I'll tell you why: because I think it's gotten -- it's become a spectacle now, and it's not going to go away. They can talk about zero tolerance. They can say we've investigated.

Alan knows what it's like on the road in the Big 10. Ask him about it. You know what it's like on the road when you're a big name and you've done something wrong.

This isn't going to go away for Indiana. It's not going to away for Bob Knight.

You know what should have happened. He should have resigned. He should have gone and been a TV commentators for two years.


He would have been resurrected. Your friend Richard Nixon was resurrected. And then he could have gone back to coaching and broken Dean Smith's record, which is what he wants to do.

NOVAK: John, do you know what an ex post facto law is?

FEINSTEIN: Yes, I do. Legally speaking I do.

NOVAK: It's prohibited in the Constitution. They decided that in 1789.

FEINSTEIN: That's my whole point!

NOVAK: An ex post facto law is a law that is enacted after you commit the offense.

FEINSTEIN: That's my point!

NOVAK: So therefore...

FEINSTEIN: Indiana is to blame.

NOVAK: But he shouldn't have been fired today.

FEINSTEIN: But he was -- no, I think he should have resigned.

NOVAK: All right. Now, let me ask you this.

FEINSTEIN: But he won't because he wants the record.

NOVAK: Have they -- have they set him up so that he cannot possibly survive these guidelines?

FEINSTEIN: No, I don't believe they have. I really didn't.

NOVAK: All right. I want you to see something. I have enjoyed Bob Knight for many years, and most of all, I enjoy him in his press conferences.

FEINSTEIN: He is amusing.

ANNOUNCER: And let's just take a look at him in a press conference.


BOB KNIGHT, BASKETBALL COACH, INDIANA UNIVERSITY: Then why doesn't he come speak to me, too, if it's such a god (EXPLETIVE DELETED) offense? Some of you people ought to go find another (EXPLETIVE DELETED) way to live!


NOVAK: So you can't really take care of him in a press conference without the bleeps.

Now, as I read President Brand's guidelines, if he did that this year, he's out of there.

FEINSTEIN: Right, right.

NOVAK: Is that -- do you think a guy could be fired for letting off steam at you people?

FEINSTEIN: Well, absolutely, as a matter of fact, for letting off steam at me because I'm such a good guy.

No, but the point is, Bob, he's not going to get fired for that, because here's what's going to happen, because there will be some kind of incident because Bob Knight is Bob Knight. And what will happen is they'll say: Oh no, that wasn't coach Knight's fault; he was goaded into that; he was taunted into that. He won't get fired for anything like that.

PRESS: I have to tell you, if I hadn't been watching that video I would have thought it was Rudy Giuliani at that news conference.


You know, I mean, there's sort of the same kind of person here. Alan Henderson, I want to come back to you. Let's say, alan, that you weren't a basketball coach, that you were a professor at Indiana University, or maybe you were a teacher in a grade school, you grabbed a kid by the neck. How long do you think you would be around?

HENDERSON: You know, if -- if it's a little kid, you know, you're probably not going to last that long. But I think a parent would probably come in and have a lot do with that. And my thing with this Neil Reed situation also is, if he really felt like he was abused and there was a big problem there, my question is why didn't he say something right then. Why wait...

PRESS: That's a good question.

HENDERSON: Why wait until there having a year where they're not up for a national championship and then try to just go after coach Knight then?

I know if someone would violate me, wherever I am, I'm going to let someone know right when it happens.

PRESS: But isn't that -- that's a very good question. But isn't that also the point? That here's a guy who's won so many games -- what is it? Over 29 seasons, 763 games, won three national championships. He was able to get away with, not literally, getaway with murder, because they loved his record. Right?

HENDERSON: But let's not make it out like this is something that happens all the time. This is a single incident that happened in 29 years of coaching there. You know, that's one thing that happened. There's a whole list of things you could go down and talk about all the positive things he does: all that money he gives to charity, all the great things he does, all the positive people he's put into society. I mean, that's one incident. He made a mistake, but I think in our society today there's a lot of people that make mistakes and...

PRESS: John?


HENDERSON: ... and they make them amends for them, they go on, and they're accepted back into society. I think he should get a chance just like everyone else.

PRESS: Go ahead, John.

FEINSTEIN: I think an important point to make here is a point Bob Knight made to me 14 years ago. This would not be happening today if Indiana had been passed the second round of the NCAA tournament in the last six years ago. He's vulnerable now, because they haven't been as good...

NOVAK: That's not fair.

FEINSTEIN: Well, but this is the reality of life. Because what Bob Knight said to me in 1986 was this: I know as long as I win people will think me eccentric. If I ever start to lose, they'll call me an embarrassment. And that's part of what's going on right now.

NOVAK: John, let me say another thing that's a reality as I see it. There's a very bad relationship between a coach Knight and a lot of reporters. I -- when I'm driving in a car up in New Hampshire -- I listen to a lot of radio talk shows for amusement on the sports...

FEINSTEIN: Why do you do that to yourself, Bob?

NOVAK: Well, just to -- and I find all of these radio sports talk show guys are liberals. And they're guys who...


NOVAK: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Give me a chance, give me a chance. And they're guys who probably never played varsity sports, they were never in the military, they never had a hard task master. And they like a kind of a feminized world. Isn't that about right?

FEINSTEIN: Bob, Bob, most of the people who are radio talk show hosts don't know what a liberal is, OK? They don't even know who the president of the United States is much less the difference between a liberal and a conservative. Bob Knight, you're right, has enemies in the media. But he else has very powerful friends in the media.

NOVAK: They're sofities, most of these guys.

FEINSTEIN: No, no, if you talk about the guys who have most of the power, the network TV guys, Billy Packard, Dick Vitale...

NOVAK: I'm not talking about them, I'm...

FEINSTEIN: ... they're all Knight supporters.

NOVAK: I'm talking about these talk show guys...

FEINSTEIN: They have a lot more power than some guy on a 6-watt radio station you're listening to in New Hampshire.

NOVAK: I'm talking about the ESPN talk guys. They're all a bunch of liberals.

FEINSTEIN: A bunch of liberals, right.

PRESS: Do you know how hard it is to find a liberal on talk radio? You've got to work hard at it.

FEINSTEIN: There are no liberals in sports.

PRESS: You can't. You can't.

FEINSTEIN: There are no liberals in sports.

PRESS: All right, we're going to take a break, John and Alan.

When we come back, after today's disciplinary action, are we going to see a kinder, gentler coach Knight in the future, or will it be the same old temper tantrums?


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

You love him our you hate him. For years, that's been the rule for Indiana University's Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Knight: love him for the games he won, hate him for his personal behavior. Will today's disciplinary action produce a kinder, gentler Knight, or will players and fans still have to duck? And what impact, if any, will it have on other coaches and other teams?

Tonight's full-court press on good sportsmanship with Alan Henderson, Atlanta Hawks forward and former basketball player at Indiana University -- Alan's in Atlanta -- and here in the studio with us, John Feinstein, author of "A Season on the Brink: A Year with Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers" -- Bob.

PRESS: John, I want to go over these remarkable guidelines, where if you say one nasty word or if you raise your voice or if you attack reporters verbally, you're out. You know, one of -- a person I greatly admire, he's a close friend of mine and I think a close friend of yours, Gary Williams of Maryland, never had a bit of scandal connected with him over a very long career, do you think he could survive these ground rules?

FEINSTEIN: If they were employed the way they were described, no. But they're not going to be employed that way, Bob. It's not going to happen. The first time there's a profanity out of Bob Knight, nobody is going to come running out of the stands and say, ah- ha, you're out of here.

NOVAK: You're saying they're...

FEINSTEIN: It's not going to happy.

NOVAK: You're saying they're phonies then.

FEINSTEIN: Phonies? That's the nicest thing I can think of to call them. That guy Walda, the guy on the board of trustees, I don't know what he does for a living, but he ought to get a job as a stand- up comedian, because he sat there with a straight face today and said there are no sacred cows at Indiana University...

PRESS: Except basketball.

FEINSTEIN: Well, he didn't that say that, though.

NOVAK: I want to ask you, you know, there's a lot of people out there watching -- I hope -- in the real world, who are not in politics or sports, and, you know, all the discontented workers, they are inspired by some discontented player from something that happened three years ago. He starts whining about it. Doesn't that rub you the wrong way?

PRESS: Well, let me just say one thing. Neil Reed first made these charges three years ago, and one of the problems I had with the original report, that aired on CNN/"SI," was that they were bringing up stuff that Neil Reed mentioned three years ago. And I had a problem with that at the time. Now unfortunately for Bob Knight, the tape changed everything, because the tape confirmed that something did, in fact, happen.

NOVAK: Two seconds.

FEINSTEIN: But -- you want me to put my hand on your neck for two seconds, see how it feels? And I'm not 6'5," 240, OK? Or angry -- and I like you.

PRESS: Alan Henderson, when the university president, President Brand, made his statement today, he talked about the message that his actions sent. Now you've just heard John say, which I agree with, that what he did was really a sham. But listen to how he described the message he was sending today please.


MYLES BRAND, INDIANA UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT: We have established tough, specific guidelines which send a clear message that abusive and embarrassing behavior will not be tolerated.


PRESS: It doesn't send that message at all, does it Alan? He let him off. It sends the opposite message. Abusive behavior is tolerated at Indiana University.

HENDERSON: I disagree with you on that. I think that the way they dictated what they want coach Knight to do from this point on is a very tough guideline. Like they said, it's a lot tougher guideline than coaches across the country face. So coach Knight is really going to have to control his temper like he said he's going to. And he's working on it, and to make sure that he doesn't face any further sanctions.

As far as what John was saying about the sacred cow, I just came back from Indianapolis this weekend, and they were all over coach Knight. Every paper, every news station was going after coach Knight. And it was almost like they were circling, hoping that there was this story that was going to be, you know, coach Knight's out of here. And I think that would have just been a shame.

And I don't think he should have resigned either. I think that he should be able to -- he's done so many great things as a coach, as a person for the kids coming through the program and the university and the state of Indiana that when he's ready go, it should be on his own terms. He should have his nice farewell tour like the coaches do nowadays and accept all the different presents from the different schools he plays.

And, you know, I just have a different feeling because I played for him, and I feel for him deeply. PRESS: Well, I'd like to believe you're right, that coach Knight has gotten the message. Today he put out a statement, and I just want to read you one line from his statement that he released today.


PRESS: He said, quote, "I've always been too confrontational, especially when I know I'm right."

I mean...

FEINSTEIN: Alan, you've got to admit that's classic coach Knight, because he's always right.

HENDERSON: I think he...

FEINSTEIN: You've got to admit that.

HENDERSON: I think he's still allowed to have great one-liners. I don't think that's against the rules.

PRESS: It doesn't so much contrition, though, does it?

NOVAK: John, I think...

PRESS: Well, let him answer.

FEINSTEIN: I just want to say one thing about what Alan said. I agree that I would love to see Bob Knight go out with the farewell tour and with breaking the record and breaking Dean Smith's record, which is why I think he's fighting to keep his job, because he wants that record. But, Alan, do you really...

NOVAK: That's the most wins by a coach.

FEINSTEIN: Yes -- Do you realistically think that he can that? Do you really think he can do that, hang on another five years without getting into trouble again, knowing him as you do?

HENDERSON: I'll tell you what: Coach Knight loves basketball. He loves coaching basketball at Indiana. And I think they've put it down for him this way. He's going to have to stick to it. It'll be tough, but I think that he loves basketball and loves the program so much that he'll be able to do it.

NOVAK: John, you and your pals in the media like to pummel...

FEINSTEIN: Liberal pals.

NOVAK: Yes. Like to pummel the coach, but I would like to have him speak for himself. And tell me if you can disagree with one word that he says. Let's listen to this.


KNIGHT: If my kids left, and they weren't successful, and they didn't have degrees, and they were on the breadline or they were selling drugs or they were in jail for one thing or another, then I'd really have a lot of questions about just what the hell my methods were all leading to.


NOVAK: Good point, isn't it?

FEINSTEIN: It's a very good point, and people like Alan are a perfect example of what he's talking about. And that's the reason why he's survived for 29 years, that and all the wins. And don't think -- he could have every kid be as articulate as Alan Henderson, every kid be a lawyer, and if he hadn't won as many games as he's won -- and he would be first one to tell you -- he still wouldn't be coaching there.

NOVAK: Do you think maybe, just possibly -- there's all kinds of coaching styles -- but that coaching style, that toughness was one of the reasons that he has three national championships?

FEINSTEIN: I think that you can be a tough coach and win national championships without going across the line. You're a good friend, I know you admire him greatly, Mike Krzyzewski's done that. Dean Smith did that.

NOVAK: When did I become a Krzyzewski fan?

FEINSTEIN: Oh, I know you're a big Krzyzewski guy. He's a conservative like you. You should like him.

NOVAK: He's from Duke.

PRESS: Alan Henderson, just one last question, I know you consider yourself, and as an athlete you want to be a role model for kids. Do you think coach Knight is a role model for other coaches?

HENDERSON: A thousand of them come to his clinic every year. I mean, they fill up half of Assembly Hall trying to hear what he has to say. I think he's a role model for them as far as the way he works so hard, the preparation he puts in, the way he pushes kids. And he's not into the flash. He's into the basic points of the game, playing good basketball.

He's also a role model for a lot of people out there in different ways. Just because someone does a few things he wrong here or there doesn't mean they can't be a role model.

NOVAK: Alan Henderson, thank you very much, .

HENDERSON: Thank you.

NOVAK: Thank you very much, John Feinstein.

FEINSTEIN: Pleasure. Good to talk to you, Alan.

HENDERSON: All right. Good talking to you.

NOVAK: Bill Press and I will be back with closing comments.


NOVAK: Tomorrow night, the king of conservative commentators, William F. Buckley Jr., joins me to double-team Bill Press on presidential politics, Rudy Giuliani and much else.



NOVAK: Bill, Bob Knight is a role model for me. Vince Lombardi is a role model. General George S. Patton Jr. is a role model, because they are the real American spirit. And people like you want to feminize the country, have a lot of namby-pambies. You don't become the greatest country in the world without people like Bobby Knight

PRESS: You are full of you know what as a Christmas goose.

Look, you don't have to be a feminist, Bob, to treat people -- I mean, like a, you know, womanlike, let's say, to treat people well.

I mean, the problem is Bob Knight knows a lot about sports. He knows nothing about sportsmanship.

You don't have to lose your temper. Grown-ups are supposed to be able to control your temper.

NOVAK: Were you ever in the military?

PRESS: Even basketball coaches.

NOVAK: Were you ever in the military or on an organized team?

PRESS: I was not. And it doesn't mean anything.

NOVAK: It shows. It shows.

PRESS: Doesn't mean anything.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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