Decade of decline for Indiana basketball
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Bob Knight may never forgive Indiana for the way he was pushed out.
There were protests, effigies of school leaders, death threats and arguments that still test the allegiances of Hoosiers’ fans. Indeed, 10 years after a 19-year-old student accused Knight of grabbing him by the arm, setting off a bitter and very public divorce, The General and Indiana University remain worlds apart.
Knight, of course, landed on his feet at Texas Tech, where he went on to break Dean Smith’s Division I record for victories and has now embarked on a broadcasting career. He hasn’t been back to the Indiana campus – even skipping his own Hall of Fame induction.
The Hoosiers? They’re still trying to recover. Since Knight’s departure, Indiana has gone through five athletic directors, four university presidents, four basketball coaches, one gigantic NCAA scandal and endured a decade of decline.
“I had a feeling this was going to be bad for a long time because it’s hard to follow a legend in the best of times,” said Fred Glass, a Knight fan who took over as Indiana’s athletic director last year. “So it wouldn’t take much imagination to see that it could be a 10-year-plus ripple effect. I think we’re still digging out from that.”
The challenge has been tougher than anyone anticipated.
Knight spent nearly three decades carefully crafting the image for Indiana’s signature sports program. He won three national titles, established high standards for his players, pushed them to overachieve and did it all without committing a major NCAA infraction. Many basketball fans thought Knight’s style was pure genius, while purists embraced the way he won.
But those long-held values came crashing down in the fallout of Knight’s firing Sept. 10, 2000.
From lawsuits to instability to the school’s biggest recruiting scandal in nearly half a century, Indiana wound up in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
There were player suspensions, academic woes and allegations of drug use within the program. The Hoosiers missed the NCAA tournament four times and endured three losing seasons in a decade for only the second time since World War II ended.
And inside Assembly Hall and around campus, tensions increased.
“It tore apart the (athletic) department and the university,” said Jerry Yeagley, the ex-Hoosiers soccer coach who won six national titles and befriended Knight. “Basically there was no middle ground, you were on one side or the other.”
The other side contended Indiana had already put up with too many of Knight’s embarrassing antics.
The list included things like throwing a chair, berating an NCAA tournament volunteer, appearing to kick his own son during a game, intimidating other university employees and putting his hands on a player’s throat at practice. The last outburst prompted then-university president Myles Brand to put Knight on a “zero tolerance” policy in May 2000.
Knight couldn’t even make it through the offseason.
Less than four months later, Kent Harvey was buying football tickets when he yelled “Hey, Knight, what’s up?” That’s when Harvey said Knight grabbed him by the arm and lectured him. Knight argued it didn’t happen that way, but three days later he was out and the backlash began.
“We all grew up wanting to play for coach Knight and this was something that was taking someone’s dream away after we had all worked so hard to get there,” said Dane Fife, who played on Knight’s last Indiana team and stuck around for the Hoosiers’ one glorious post-Knight moment – the run to the 2002 NCAA title game. “My disagreement with it was that I think they should have either made a clean break five or 10 years earlier or found a way to make it work.”
Time has done little to heal the wounds.
Knight and his son, Pat, now the Texas Tech coach, declined interview requests for this story. Mike Davis, Knight’s immediate successor at Indiana, wouldn’t talk either. Former university trustee Steve Ferguson, once Knight’s personal attorney, said he hasn’t changed his opinion about the decision. And Peg Brand, Brand’s widow, continues to support her husband’s decision.
“If I look to see what has been accomplished in the last 10 years with Bob Knight, I don’t think there is any comparison,” she said, referring to what her husband did as NCAA president before his death Sept. 16, 2009. “I don’t even see the point. What good has (Knight) done in the last 10 years?”
With Knight, the Hoosiers went 661-240 in 29 seasons and spent years boasting that every player who stayed for four seasons left with a Big Ten crown.
Without him, Indiana is 177-144 with six NCAA tourney appearances in 10 years and only one Big Ten championship.
The bigger hit has come in recruiting.
The constant coaching changes combined with the rise of two other Indiana programs, archrival Purdue and last year’s national runner-up Butler, has third-year coach Tom Crean still playing catch-up.
“Indiana obviously went down from a national perspective from the way it was when Knight was there,” national recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons said. “The heart and soul of their program has always been in-state kids staying home, growing up and wanting to play for the Hoosiers and Bob Knight, and all that left. It’s taken some time, but I think the new coaching staff is slowly, but surely, getting the program back.”
Former Purdue coach Gene Keady, who relished the rivalry with Knight and the Hoosiers, isn’t so sure.
“I hope they get it back because Indiana-Purdue is always one of the biggest rivalries in the nation and they need that,” said Keady, who spent last season working on the Big Ten Network. “But I don’t know if they’re getting there. That’s a good question, but I just don’t know.”
Crean and Glass have spent countless hours trying to revive the good old’ days, but they’ve spent some of their time trying to mend fences, too.
Since taking over as Hoosiers coach in April 2008, Crean has been bringing back players, including Knight loyalists, to celebrate the program’s rich history. Some, such as Fife, now the head coach at IPFW, think that’s one way to reunify Hoosiers Nation.
“The biggest disappointment to me has been the lack of player involvement,” Fife said. “And I’m as guilty as anybody of not going back and making those players understand the importance of Indiana basketball.”
Glass’ tack was simple: The new athletic director went directly to Knight.
Last year, Knight and Glass spent nearly five hours at a lunch meeting, and the two have since exchanged notes.
It was Glass who also urged Hall of Fame voters to finally elect Knight last year, and Indiana’s brand new practice facility contains several exhibits showcasing Knight’s greatest achievements at Indiana, including college basketball’s last unbeaten team (1976).
Glass isn’t the only one who wants Knight to be involved with the program.
“I have a ton of respect for Bob Knight,” Crean said. “But when you get here and learn exactly how powerful this program is, because people have such a real passion for this program, it’s really amazing and that’s because of Bob Knight.”
At least it’s a start.
And if Glass can make it work, perhaps, Indiana won’t have to wait another decade to put its program back together.
“These are very hard things on people that have still not scabbed over, and I think the word raw is a very appropriate word,” Glass said. “That’s why it’s important to get beyond all that, to try and heal that, to try and have Bob Knight back in the IU family. We’ve been trying to lay the groundwork for that to happen, and I think if that happens, it will be have to be on coach Knight’s terms. We’ve tried to make it a more welcoming environment here, and we hope he’ll come back.”