Blast from the past: Good riddance, Bob Knight

I’m ruefully embarrassed about maybe 70 percent of the things I wrote in my college newspaper from 1998 to 2002. Let’s just say I liked to write loooong, and once called Rancid’s Life Won’t Wait a “sprawling, intercontinental post-punk masterpiece” — whatever the heck that’s supposed to mean.

But tonight, after reading another of the many annoying encomiums to suddenly retired Bob Knight (typical gist: Sure the Texas Tech coach was a jerk, but what an old-school winner!), I dug out an old piece that’s among the 30 percent of less-embarrassing stuff. It’s an editorial I wrote for The Diamondback in September 2000, when Knight was fired as Indiana’s coach. I’m reproducing it here because even my 20-year-old self seems to have been more mature (if not a tad more naive) than the sportswriters who now, as then, ultimately excuse Knight’s idiocy for his wins. Even this column at SI.com, which ostensibly blasts Knight, is really just faulting him for quitting on the team. So hop into the wayback machine, do a little Wayne’s World dream sequence hand-dance, and check it:

*****

It took 29 years of looking the other way, acting out of greed instead of with maturity, and putting success ahead of common decency, but Indiana University’s powers-that-be have finally decided to grow up.

The school’s trustees stood up to men’s basketball coach Bob Knight on Sunday, firing him after years of condoning his inappropriate, offensive, hurtful and childish behavior to put a winning team on the court. The decision is a victory for college students nationwide, because in firing their living legend Indiana’s trustees had to stop looking at basketball as a business and Knight as their perpetual meal ticket, and put students’ interests above their own financial concerns.

Knight enjoys nearly universal recognition as both a basketball mastermind and an unparalleled jerk. Until Sunday, he also enjoyed nearly total immunity from this latter condition; as long as he was winning games and selling seats, nobody much cared if he threw chairs, strangled players or cursed out subordinates.

Besides, he was just a coach — it’s not like he was a role model for students.

Does anyone seriously think, if a professor or other university administrator did any of the things Knight was accused of, that he or she would not be fired instantly, run out of town and sued for millions of dollars? It’s a great lesson for college students: Your professors can’t treat you badly, but don’t worry about that renegade lunatic basketball coach. After all, he wins championships! …

Of course many college coaches are notorious for their tempers; just look at Terrapin men’s coach Gary Williams. But there’s a difference between Williams — and John Thompson, Bob Huggins and other fiery coaches — and Knight: By most accounts, Williams is an amiable person who treats others, particularly his players, with respect.

There is a fine line between yelling and acting like a madman in the name of competition and just behaving like a jerk. But when it’s clear that the line has been crossed, as was the case with Knight for many years, ignoring such behavior undermines the primary goal of any college or university: to help its students become better adults.

It’s hard to do that when the people in charge act like little kids.

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