President to Knight: no margin for error

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 16, 2000

The Associated Press

Coaches and players, fans and critics all are wondering the same thing: How long before Knight chews out a ref or a player who makes a mistake or a reporter who asks a question Knight doesn’t like?<!—->.

Tuesday, May 16, 2000

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Coaches and players, fans and critics all are wondering the same thing: How long before Knight chews out a ref or a player who makes a mistake or a reporter who asks a question Knight doesn’t like?

How long before Knight pounds a table or throws a chair again? How long before he punches or grabs someone who baits him on the court or at some restaurant?

How long before Knight does something lacking ”decorum” and ”civility,” as Indiana president Myles Brand described the behavior he expects from the coach?

How long before Knight embarrasses Indiana again, as Brand said he has numerous times, and is summarily fired under the new ”zero-tolerance policy?”

Knight’s half-hearted apology – he said he was sorry for having a temper but not for anything he did – earned him what Brand called ”one last chance” to keep his job.

But no sooner was Knight suspended for three regular-season games and fined $30,000 Monday than he showed he had no intention of coddling critics or making peace with the press.

Rather than attend the news conference at which Brand dished out the punishment and laid down the new rules, Knight went turkey hunting in the morning and spent the afternoon at his office at Assembly Hall in Bloomington. As he left the office, reporters asked him for a comment, and Knight responded as acidly as ever:

”Why talk now when so many things have been said without ever giving me a chance to talk?”

A short time later, Knight took off for a vacation in Scotland.

Knight had plenty of chances to talk during the seven-week investigation into an allegation that he choked a player in 1997, and each time he was asked, he refused.

He declined to talk about whether he intimidated an athletic department secretary twice, as she claimed, or whether he brandished soiled toilet paper in front of his players or fought with a former coach.

No matter what the trustees found or didn’t find, Indiana player Dane Fife knows Knight will have to make some tough adjustments to keep his job.

”He can’t be the same,” Fife said. ”He’s got to be careful with reporters, and when he’s on the court he can’t be kicking chairs or smacking the press table.”

”He’s going to have to change, he’s going to have to control himself and coach differently,” Fresno State coach Jerry Tarkanian said.

”He can still (challenge) players and be intense. I just take it to mean he can’t do any choke holds or body slams,” said Northwestern Coach Kevin O’Neill, who believes Knight will learn from this experience, but isn’t likely to change his coaching style.

But experts in anger management are dubious about Knight’s ability to reform his volatile personality at age 59.

”I think what I’m seeing in his behavior is that he feels genuinely remorseful for his behavior, but the test will be how well he can manage his anger in the future,” said Dennis Marikis, an anger management consultant in Ohio. ”The real test will be six months from now when he’s got his team behind closed doors. I think that’s when things change.”

Indiana psychology professor David Pisoni remains skeptical.

”It’s very difficult for people to change their behaviors for many years,” Pisoni said.

Indianapolis sports psychologist Greg Hale would have liked to have seen Knight take more responsibility for his behavior.

”He didn’t acknowledge some of the wrongs. He just said, ‘I’ll do better.’ In just the same way he’d expect his players to accept responsibility for an errant pass or not blocking out, I’d expect him to take responsibility.”

Trustee Stephen Backer said that ”ineffective action taken in the past regarding Knight’s behavior” over his 29-year career added to the problem.

”I think that the coach has to definitely learn how to control his anger, and he may need to seek outside help to do that,” Backer said. ”I think all of us hope coach Knight can change his behavior and live within the guidelines that we have set for him.”

Some fans doubt he can.

”You can write this down: Bobby Knight will not be there in two years,” said Dwight Pinner, 40, a lab technician for Eli Lilly and Co.

”He’s not going to change. It’s not in him. There is no justification for his behavior,” said Sophia Massey, 33, a nurse.

The investigation, which Brand claimed was exhaustive and thorough, concluded that Knight didn’t choke former player Neil Reed but did grab him by the throat in an inappropriate manner. It found that there was not enough evidence, only the testimony of two or three witnesses, to support the allegation about the soiled toilet paper.

Yet there was enough in the report for the board of trustees president and lead investigator John Walda to declare that Knight had ”a lengthy pattern of troubling behavior.”

Brand, who has known about and tolerated several incidents of that behavior throughout his tenure, now insists that it ”cannot and will not be tolerated.”

In addition to the suspension and fine, Knight must issue an apology to the athletic department secretary he berated and threatened in two incidents. Knight was not asked to apologize to Reed.

”Any failure on Coach Knight’s part to meet these standards will be cause for further sanctions, up to and including termination,” Brand said.

The investigation followed accusations by Reed, who said Knight choked him during a practice that was caught on videotape. During the inquiry, other accusations of verbal and physical abuse emerged.

Reed, appearing on CNN’s ”Larry King Live” on Monday night, called the university’s handling of his situation ”shady.”

”I was basically discarded and almost run out of town” after reporting the choking incident, he said.

”They did conduct an investigation, but it was an oral investigation and there was no written record of it,” Reed said.

Athletic director Clarence Doninger, involved in a fight with Knight after a loss to Ohio State in February, expressed skepticism the coach will be able to change his behavior. Doninger also said he was annoyed that he was not included in the decision-making process.

Some faculty members also were skeptical that Knight will change.

”It’s going to continue and continue,” said English professor Murray Sperber, an outspoken critic of Knight. ”This is a horrible hit for the image of the university.”