Bob Knight, the sixth-winningest coach in Division I men’s college basketball history whose Hall of Fame career was highlighted by three national titles at Indiana — one an undefeated season not since matched — and countless on-court outbursts, died Wednesday, according to his family.
He was 83.
“It is with heavy hearts that we share that Coach Bob Knight passed away at his home in Bloomington surrounded by his family,” the Knight Family said in a statement. “We are grateful for all the thoughts and prayers, and appreciate the continued respect for our privacy as Coach requested a private family gathering, which is being honored. We will continue to celebrate his life and remember him, today and forever as a beloved Husband, Father, Coach, and Friend.
“In lieu of flowers, please consider honoring Coach with a memorial contribution to the Alzheimer’s Association or Marian University.”
Knight became the youngest coach at a Division I school in 1965 when he broke in at Army at 24. But he made his mark in 29 years at Indiana, including winning a school-record 661 games and reaching the NCAA tournament 24 times in 29 seasons. Knight’s first NCAA title came in 1976 when Indiana went undefeated, a feat no team has accomplished since.
In 1984, he coached the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in Los Angeles, the last American amateur team to claim Olympic gold. Knight won 20 or more games in 29 seasons, compiling a career record of 902-371.
Knight was eventually forced out at Indiana in 2000 for violating a “zero tolerance” behavior policy by grabbing the arm of a freshman student who he said greeted him by his last name. It was the final transgression on a long list, which included his most infamous incident — throwing a chair during a Purdue game — and accusations of numerous physical confrontations.
The most notable involved Knight apparently choking player Neil Reed in a practice in 1997.
Knight then left to become the basketball coach at Texas Tech in 2001, six months after being fired by Indiana for what school officials there called a “pattern of unacceptable behavior.”
In Knight’s six full years at Tech, he led the Red Raiders to five 20-win seasons, a first at the school. Knight passed former North Carolina coach Dean Smith as the then-winningest Division I men’s coach Jan. 1, 2007, getting career win No. 880. To celebrate the milestone Knight chose the song “My Way” by Frank Sinatra, a mantra for how he navigated his personal and professional worlds.
Back then, Knight explained why “My Way” was so fitting.
“I’ve simply tried to do what I think is best,” Knight said. “Regrets? Sure. Just like the song. I have regrets. I wish I could have done things better at times. I wish I would have had a better answer, a better way, at times. But just like he said, I did it my way and when I look back on it, I don’t think my way was all that bad.”
Knight resigned as Texas Tech’s basketball coach in the middle of the 2008-09 season, his 42nd year as a head coach, and walked away from college basketball. He later worked as a college basketball analyst for ESPN.
What he did and how he did it made Knight legend. However, the influence and discipline he brought to coaching made him special.
“Outside of my immediate family, no single person has had a greater impact on my life than Coach Knight,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who played for Knight at Army and surpassed his mentor as the winningest Division I college basketball coach in 2011. “I have the ultimate respect for him as a coach and a mentor, but even more so as a dear friend. For more than 40 years, the life lessons I have learned from Coach are immeasurable. Simply put, I love him.”
Robert Montgomery Knight was born on Oct. 25, 1940 in Orrville, Ohio and was a prep basketball, baseball and football star at Orrville High School. While a player at Ohio State, his teams compiled an overall record of 78-6. The Buckeyes won the national title in 1960 (Knight was 0-for-1 with one personal foul in a 75-55 win over California in the title game and averaged 3.7 points as a sub that season), and captured Big Ten titles during all three of Knight’s seasons.
After his college career ended, he went into coaching, and was an Army assistant when he was elevated to head coach, succeeding Tates Locke.
Knight spent six years (1965-71) at Army, going 102-50, then moved to Indiana, where his Hoosiers went 662-239 from 1971-00. Dressed in his trademark red sweater, he won national titles there in 1976, ’81 and ’87.
Knight was elected and inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991. Previously, Knight had asked not to be renominated to the Hall of Fame, calling the voters’ rejection of him in 1987 a “slap in the face.”
He was a complex package and had a lengthy record of outbursts over the years. He was charged and later convicted for hitting a policeman in Puerto Rico, head-butted Indiana player Sherron Wilkerson while screaming at him on the bench, was accused of wrapping his hands around a player’s neck and allegedly kicked his own son (Knight claimed he actually kicked the chair his son sat on).
He also gave a mock whipping to Calbert Cheaney, a Black Indiana player, during a 1992 practice for the NCAA West Regional, offending several black leaders. Knight denied any racial connotations and notes the bullwhip was given to him by the players.
But he never broke NCAA rules. He always had a high graduation rate and gave his salary back a few years after he arrived in Lubbock because he didn’t think he’d earned it.
“I am very fortunate and blessed to have played for him. He made me a better man and for that I am grateful,” former Indiana star and current USC coach Steve Alford said.
Knight’s firing by then-Indiana president Myles Brand remained an unpopular one in the state of Indiana, where Knight still had a multitude of supporters.
Indiana officials made attempts over the years to mend fences with the man who brought the Hoosiers a school-record 661 games, but Knight steadfastly refused all attempts by the school, ex-players and fans to make peace — and refused to participate in any IU activities.
He skipped team reunions and even declined to attend his induction into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 2009, saying he didn’t want his presence to detract from other class members.
That, however, all changed in recent years.
The thaw began in earnest in 2019, when he made a surprise appearance at an Indiana baseball game. In July, he bought a house 3 miles from the basketball arena.
And then in February 2020, he finally returned to Assembly Hall for an Indiana-Purdue, game. He was met with roars of approval from the sold-out crowd, including dozens of former players.
Knight walked in with his son Pat. He hugged Isiah Thomas. He was assisted into the arena by Quinn Buckner. And Knight reveled in the moment, pumping his fist, pretending to direct Scott May in a practice drill and even leading fans in a chorus of, “De-fense, de-fense.”
“It was one of the greatest and most emotional things for me,” said former player Randy Wittman, who had a key role in the reunion. “I don’t know if we’ll see something like this again in college basketball. When he moved back here, I told him, ‘You’re back here because this is where you belong.'”
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