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Hall of Fame college basketball coach Bob Knight dies at 83

<i>John Biever/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images</i><br/>Bob Knight
John Biever/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
Bob Knight

By Steve Almasy, CNN

(CNN) — Bob Knight, one of college basketball’s winningest coaches but also one of the sport’s most polarizing figures, has died at the age of 83, his family announced on Wednesday.

The family did not immediately release the cause of death for the man who most famously coached Indiana University from 1971 to 2000 and won three national championships there, including in 1976, a squad that is the most recent men’s Division I team to finish the season unbeaten.

Knight passed away at his home in Bloomington, Indiana, surrounded by his relatives, the family posted to his website.

“We will continue to celebrate his life and remember him, today and forever as a beloved Husband, Father, Coach, and Friend,” the post reads.

Before retiring in 2008, Knight won a then-record 902 NCAA Division I men’s games. Knight bookended his 29 seasons in Bloomington with successful stints at the US Military Academy and Texas Tech University.

Mike Krzyzewski, the legendary former Duke coach whom Knight coached at Army in the late 1960s, paid tribute to Knight on Wednesday, saying “we lost one of the greatest coaches in the history of basketball.”

“Clearly, he was one of a kind. Coach Knight recruited me, mentored me, and had a profound impact on my career and in my life. This is a tremendous loss for our sport and our family is deeply saddened by his passing,” said Krzyzewski, now the NCAA Division I men’s leader with 1,202 wins.

In addition to winning on the court, Knight was known for running a clean program – an overwhelming majority of Knight’s players graduated and his teams were never on NCAA probation.

Nicknamed “The General,” Knight innovated how coaches used the motion offense and insisted on tough man-to-man defense, and led his teams to 24 appearances in the NCAA Division I men’s tournament. The four-time National Coach of the Year led Indiana to 11 Big Ten Conference titles and five Final Fours.

He told ESPN in 2000 that were he to list his job title on a passport, it would be “teacher/coach.”

But Knight also was described in a lot of other ways, some not so nice: Brash. Intimidating. Unapologetic. Mad genius.

“People want national championship banners. People want to talk about Indiana being competitive. How do we get there? We don’t get there with milk and cookies. We never have and we never will,” he told Bob Costas in 1994, about a week after an incident where his head contacted the head of a player he was barking at on the bench. Some media critics said it was a headbutt and that he should be fired; Knight said the incident was accidental.

At that weekend, Indiana played its final home game of the season, and at a ceremony honoring the team’s seniors, Knight said: “When my time on Earth is gone and my activities here are past, I want they bury me upside down, and my critics can kiss my ass.”

Steve Alford, one of the top players in Hoosiers’ history, told another former Hoosiers captain, AJ Guyton, in 2020 that he appreciated how Knight coached despite the angry outbursts.

“Coach just had the ability, you just couldn’t take a day off,” Alford, now coach at the University of Nevada, said on Guyton’s “House of Hoosier” podcast. “You may not appreciate when you’re playing for him, but now coaching for 30 years and seeing how he made me a better player … it was on the gas pedal all the time. … I’ve always appreciated how honest, fair, and consistent Coach was.”

“You see him, he can be the greatest, friendliest, nicest guy, but then all of a sudden, he can be the craziest, meanest, just the last person you would want to be around,” Richard Mandeville, who played for Indiana in the 1990s, told CNN in 2000.

Knight always admitted he was tough on his players.

“If I came in to recruit your son, I would tell you, your wife, and your son, that I will be the most demanding coach your son can play for,” he told CNN’s Larry King in 2001. “Right off the bat. That’s the first thing I tell them. I say, I’m going to demand he goes to class, I’m going to demand that he plays hard, that he plays smart, that he behaves himself.”

Though he is best known for building a blue blood program at Indiana, Knight left in disgrace in 2000, having been fired by the university president. Earlier that year, CNN/Sports Illustrated reported former player Neil Reed’s accusation that he was choked by the coach three years prior during a practice. Video showed Knight putting his hand to the neck of the player during a stop in play. Knight always claimed he didn’t choke Reed but admitted it wasn’t unusual for him to put his hands on players.

After the choking video surfaced, the university initially suspended Knight for three games, fined him $30,000 and said he was subject of a zero-tolerance policy.

He didn’t make it to the next basketball season, being fired in September 2000 after an Indiana student said the coach confronted and grabbed him by the arm after the student addressed him as “Knight.”

For years Knight was estranged from the university, until he returned in 2020 for an event honoring his 1980-81 national championship team. More recently, Knight had been to some Indiana basketball practices, according to current Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson. Knight was hospitalized for several days in April 2023, his family said without specifying the nature or severity of his illness.

Won a national title with Ohio State as a reserve player

Robert Montgomery Knight was born on October 25, 1940, and grew up in the small northeastern city of Orrville, Ohio, where his father was a railroad worker and his mother was an elementary school teacher. In high school he played basketball, baseball and football.

The 6-foot-5 Knight went to Ohio State University and was a reserve on the 1960 national championship team that featured future Hall of Famers John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas.

After graduating from Ohio State, Knight was an assistant coach at Ohio’s Cuyahoga Falls High School for one year before he joined the Army. He was assigned to assist the US Military Academy’s head coach Tates Locke, and was elevated to the top job at West Point at age 24 when in 1965 Locke moved to Ohio University.

“I really enjoyed coaching there. There were a lot of challenges because of the amount of time you could have with the kids,” Knight told Larry King in 2000. Despite the Army’s maximum height limit (6-foot-5), Knight’s teams went to the National Invitation Tournament four times in his six seasons.

He was hired by Indiana before the 1971-72 season, and in 1973 guided Indiana to the Final Four for the first time since 1953. Knight’s teams won national championships in 1976 (with a 32-0 record), 1981 and 1987. The Hoosiers also reached the Final Four in 1992. His Indiana squads won 662 games and lost just 239, according to the university.

After leaving Indiana, Knight spent almost seven seasons in Lubbock at Texas Tech, where the Red Raiders made four NCAA tournament appearances. He left with 10 games left in the 2007-2008 season; his son Pat Knight took over as had been preordained.

Knight’s basketball legacy also includes coaching the United States’ gold-winning men’s squad at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. He is one of three men to lead teams to titles at the Olympics, the NCAA tournament and the National Invitation Tournament.

Many people will remember Knight as a coach who was loved by Indiana fans but who verbally abused players, officials and reporters. Knight didn’t appear to care.

Considered one of the best basketball coaches ever, Knight also made the news for petulant acts, including throwing a chair across a court in 1985 as an opposing player prepared to take a technical foul free throw; chastising a NCAA worker at a tournament news conference; kicking Pat Knight, then a player, in the leg while his son was on the bench (both father and son say he was kicking at the chair).

Even when he led the United States men’s team to a gold medal at an international tournament in Puerto Rico in 1979, it was overshadowed by his conviction in absentia for punching a police officer.

On “Larry King Live” in 2000, the host asked Knight whether yelling at a player helps him.

“Well, I think under some circumstances. I think there are some kids that you’ve got to be very careful about,” Knight said. “I think there are some kids that get caught up with the fact that coach is on me, coach is really on me. I can’t play because he’s on me. … I think part of being a really good coach is understanding the personalities of all the kids that are playing for you, because they cannot all be treated alike.”

In the first chapter of “A Season on the Brink,” the behind-the-scenes telling of the Hoosiers’ up-and-down 1985-86 season, writer John Feinstein describes how Knight blew his top in one practice – not a rarity at all – to the point where a star player he blasted with profanities was ready to cry. Knight kicked the player, Daryl Thomas, out of the gym, but a few days later told the 20-year-old why he exploded.

“Sometimes I think I want you to be a great player more than you want to be a great player. And that just tears me up inside,” Feinstein’s book documents Knight as saying. “Because there is no way you will ever be a great player unless you want it. But I can coach, teach, scream and yell from now until Doomsday and you won’t be as good unless you want it as bad as I do.”

Thomas stayed at Indiana, Knight stuck with him through his academic troubles, and in 1987 he was a captain and made the pass on the winning basket in the national championship game.

Just before the Final Four began, Thomas told the Chicago Tribune, “It was worth it. The yelling and screaming, the pain. Everything was definitely worth it.”

“I’d go through it all over again, exactly the same way, if I knew it would turn out like this,” he said. “Getting into the Final Four in my last shot at it was something I dreamed, wished and prayed for.”

While Knight admittedly didn’t have a great relationship with the media at all times, his final job in basketball was as an analyst for ESPN for seven years.

Knight was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991, the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006 and the IU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009.

Quinn Buckner, a star on Indiana’s 1976 national title team and chairman of IU’s board of trustees, said Wednesday was “a terribly sad day for the IU basketball family, Indiana University, the state of Indiana, and the world of sports as we say goodbye to Coach Knight.”

“One of the things that he said to our 1976 team … was that you may never see another team like this again,” Buckner said Wednesday. “Well, I don’t know that we will ever see another coach like him again. I think it’s important for people to realize that. It was a special opportunity to have been coached by him, and an equally special opportunity to have him as a friend. Because as great a coach as he was, he was an infinitely better friend. He’s a big part of who we are, and we were very fortunate to have had him in our lives.”

CNN’s Jacob Lev and Steve Forrest contributed to this report.

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