The Van Wert County Courthouse

Friday, Nov. 15, 2019

Bob Knight lives life on his own terms

CINDY WOOD/independent feature writer

Former Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight will speak Thursday at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center of Northwest Ohio. (photo submitted)

Put aside the championships, the Hall of Fame inductions, the Olympic gold medal, and the hundreds of wins, and legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight is just like any other retiree. “They were biting a little better yesterday,” Knight said, after returning home from his most recent fishing excursion.

Knight, an avid hunter and fisherman, is arguably one of the most successful and controversial college basketball coaches of all time. Throughout his career, his “in your face” coaching style and questionable behavior drew criticism from players, fans and the Indiana University administration. His firing by IU officials in 2000 generated national headlines and around-the-clock news footage.

These days, though, Knight is happy to leave the headlines behind and concentrate on the simple things in life. “My life is pretty normal,” he said. “I have a great wife, and when I have an opportunity to do something with her that she enjoys and that I enjoy, that’s about as good as it gets.”

At 71, Knight remains active in basketball, and is currently working as an analyst for ESPN, a gig that allows him to stay connected to the game he devoted his life to. “I spent a lifetime coaching, but I enjoy watching the games and I enjoy the analytical part of it,” he said. “I’ve always appreciated when somebody comes up to me and tells me they enjoyed watching my teams play, but I appreciate it just as much when they tell me they learn about the game when I’m in the broadcast booth.”

He’ll offer up some of that analysis, and years of reflection, at his upcoming appearance at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center. Knight is slated to appear on stage at the NPAC at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 4. He said he’s looking forward to his visit, and asks only one thing his audience: “I just want them to enjoy themselves,” he said. “I hope when the evening is over that they will say to themselves ‘that was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed being there.’”

One of the most decorated college coaches of all time, Knight is modest about his success, and he downplays all the awards, honors and accolades. “Great accomplishments have something to do with helping multitudes of people, or fighting off an enemy like the American military did in World War II,” Knight said, adding “we sometimes have a tendency to label things more strongly than perhaps they should be.”

Knight’s resume, however, speaks for itself.

Growing up in the Ohio community of Orrville, Knight played under Hall of Fame coach Fred Taylor at Ohio State University, while earning a degree in history and government in the early 1960s. After coaching junior varsity basketball for a year, he served as an assistant coach with the Army Black Knights before being named Army’s head coach at 24.

In 1971, he accepted the head coach position at Indiana University, where he spent the next 29 years of his career. While at IU, Knight amassed a remarkable .735 winning percentage and led the Hoosiers to three NCAA championships and 11 Big Ten championships. With 902 NCAA Division I wins under his belt, he is second only to a former player, Hall of Fame Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke (who played under Knight at West Point). During his career at Indiana, Knight was named “National Coach of the Year’ four times and “Big Ten Coach of the Year” eight times.

He also became one of only three coaches to win an NCAA title, National Invitational Tournament (NIT) title and an Olympic gold medal in 1984 when he coached the United States Olympic basketball team to gold medal finish. Out of the thousands of games Knight has been a part of, that game remains one of his most cherished memories.

“That was a game that we didn’t represent a team, a league, a state or anything else,” Knight said. “We were representing the United States and our team winning that game is something I might cherish more than any other win.”

The son of a school teacher mother and a father who spent his life working on the railroad, Knight drew inspiration from his parents and grandparents, who instilled in him a love of reading that he carries with him today. “I think I had a library card when I was about six years old. Both my mother and grandmother were ardent readers,” he said, adding, “I can’t even begin to tell you how many days I spent in our library in Orrville deciding which book I wanted to take home and read.”

Education was also highly regarded in Knight’s mother’s family: the Montgomery family of southeastern Ohio. “I knew from the time I was in elementary school that I would go to college,” he said. “Going on to further my education was very important to my family, and it was always a big part of my life growing up.”

Knight proudly recalls his grandmother, and her siblings, who all received a college education, during an era when education was minimal at best. “These were three farm kids down on the Ohio River, who went to school when women very rarely went to school,” Knight said. “My grandmother’s sister graduated from Mount Union College in Alliance as valedictorian, and their brother became a doctor. They very much valued their education.”

Knight instilled those values in his players as well. The coach known for once throwing a chair across the basketball court is also known for placing as much emphasis on academics as winning games. Nearly 98 percent of his players completed degrees, and nearly 80 percent graduated from a Division I college, compared to the national average of 42 percent.

While at IU, he paid homage to his love of reading by raising millions of dollars for what would ultimately be named the Bob Knight Library Fund. During its lifetime, the fund has nearly tripled in size and supports all library activities.

His philanthropic efforts, Knight said, simply go with being a good coach. “Coaching has obligations that go beyond winning games,” he said. “There are other things you need to be doing that are very important to a university, and I happened to pick the library, and I’ve worked in every way possible to enhance what the library means to people.”

For Knight, it also meant passing on a gift that was given to him at a very early age. “Reading, I think, was possibly the greatest gift I was given in life from my mother and grandmother,” he said. “I get a lot of enjoyment out of reading and I like to encourage other people to read.”

Knight continued his charitable giving at Texas Tech, where he landed after his controversial firing at Indiana. Soon after arriving, he donated $10,000 to the school’s library, and immediately began improving the Red Raiders’ program. Knight spent eight years at the school before retiring in 2008. Knight’s son, Pat, took over where his dad left off.

“At that point, he thought he knew more than I did, as I think is the case with many children,” Knight said of his son, laughing. “But I kind of just let him go, and it was interesting to see how he grew into it.” The younger Knight’s performance was slow at first, but has improved with each passing year. “He helped lead his team to win the league, and I feel very good for him, not just as a father, but because here’s a guy that was making some mistakes, and was smart enough to know that and correct them.”

Undoubtedly, the elder Knight made some mistakes along the way as well, but he offers no apologies for his intense desire and drive to win ball games. “People who know me understand what I’m all about, and sometimes people don’t understand, and I don’t give that a second thought,” Knight said, adding that his numerous accomplishments pale in comparison to the reason he first became involved in the sport. “I’ve basically spent my whole life working in a game that I absolutely loved, and a game that I enjoyed being a part of. It just doesn’t get any better than that.”

Tickets to attend Knight’s lecture are now on sale at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center box office, or visit www.npacvw.org.

POSTED: 10/01/12 at 5:53 am. FILED UNDER: News