20 years after Bob Knight's Indiana basketball coaching career came to a fiery end, a look at how it happened
By ZACH OSTERMAN | The Indianapolis Star | Published: September 11, 2020
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (Tribune News Service) – Twenty years ago Thursday, Indiana University fired Bob Knight.
An institution of higher learning that had, to that point, existed for 180 years, and surely intends to keep on going for another 180 or more, may never again know a more fractious day.
Knight’s firing ended the 29-year tenure of arguably the greatest basketball coach of a generation, a cultural icon whose importance transcended his sport and whose philosophies had come to define for many people what it meant to live in this part of the world.
How the relationship between Knight, his fans and IU’s administration reached that breaking point remains a matter of debate. Collect 100 alumni in a room and you’ll find a variety of opinions on the circumstances surrounding Knight’s dismissal, and just as many on the man and his legacy.
This account makes every effort to leave that debate to the wider world. It instead focuses on those fraught, tense, unforgettable days in September 2000. This is the story of Bob Knight’s firing, through the memories of those who lived it.
(Note: This oral history will be presented largely through a series of quotes and recollections from people in some way involved in Bob Knight’s dismissal. It draws from firsthand interviews conducted by IndyStar with former IU players, administrators and others, as well as coverage of the event itself at the time. An attempt to reach Knight through a friend was unsuccessful. Many other key figures in the events surrounding the university’s decision, including former IU coach Mike Davis, numerous former players and former trustees either declined comment for this story, or did not respond to interview requests from IndyStar. Other noteworthy officials involved, including former IU President Myles Brand and other trustees at the time, have since died. Kent Harvey, contacted about a separate story to be packaged to this one, also declined comment, saying he wished to leave the incident in the past. Where applicable, this story will clarify quotes drawn from prior reporting, either by IndyStar or by other news media. All other quotes cited come from first-person accounts given to IndyStar in the last few months.)
Myles Brand woke Terry Clapacs with a phone call early on a Sunday morning. Clapacs at that time was chief administrative officer of the university, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to work on weekends. That had been a particularly long one, and IU’s president had a request.
Clapacs: “In those days, the president sort of alternated between living in Bryan House (on the Bloomington campus) and living in the Lilly House in Indianapolis. He was at the Lilly House that weekend. He said, ‘I’d like you to come up right away, and have a conversation with the basketball coach. Fairly soon, he’s going to call me, and I’d like you to come up.’”
The preceding months had been difficult. In March, on the eve of the NCAA tournament, CNN/SI published video supporting an allegation that Knight choked former Hoosier Neil Reed during a 1997 practice. A headline across the top of the March 15, 2000, IndyStar read ‘Ex-player’s allegations turn spotlight on Knight,' as then-editor Tim Franklin assembled a team of reporters to delve into the culture surrounding the program.
IU’s response was swift. At a news conference held at Assembly Hall, multiple players defended their coach, and then-athletic director Clarence Doninger expressed confidence in his own investigation of the initial allegation, raised years earlier.
Doninger in a March 15, 2000, IndyStar article: “I talked with every player and coach, and nobody had anything to say.”
John Walda, then president of IU’s board of trustees, told IndyStar he didn’t “put much stock” in old allegations.
But the board nevertheless commissioned an investigation into Knight’s conduct. Headed by Walda and then-trustee Fred Eichhorn, that investigation started March 23 and ran seven weeks. Walda and Eichhorn interviewed 29 people, including IU staff, current players and former players, affirming some alleged misconduct while disproving some as well.
It did confirm the Neil Reed incident.
The previous weekend had been Mother’s Day, and commencement at IUPUI. That Saturday night, Brand called Clapacs, and asked him to drive to Knight’s house in Bloomington. There, Clapacs and Knight spoke for some time.
Clapacs: “Coach Knight had been a good friend. I considered him a good friend. Myles asked me to go out to his house on that Saturday night and say that a lot of this was coming to a head, and there was a lot of pressure about his future at Indiana University. That was coming from trustees as individuals. Not a board-of-trustees official push, but obviously you’ve got nine people that have opinions. So, I went out to (Knight's) house that Saturday night, and we talked for a long, long time.
“The result of that was, we called Myles. It was almost midnight. We said could we come over to Bryan House. He said, 'Sure.' We went to Bryan House, coach and his wife. It was from that meeting then — it started around midnight, lasted until about 2 in the morning — that this whole concept of zero-tolerance policy was put in place. Coach agreed to it, made changes. It was back and forth. We finally got to a place where he felt he was comfortable with it. The next morning, then, at our meeting with the trustees in Indianapolis, Myles was very much in coach Knight’s corner. He said, ‘I think we’ve got something here that will work.’”
The following Monday, Brand and the trustees revealed the results of the investigation, and measures taken because of it. Knight would serve a three-game suspension during the coming season, and have $30,000 withheld from his salary. A commission would be established to develop an athletic department-wide code of conduct. Brand told reporters he informed Knight he had the full backing of his trustees to dismiss Knight at that time.
Clapacs: “It was always recognized by the board of trustees and by the president, Myles Brand, that any decision about coach Knight was solely the responsibility of president Brand.”
Brand elected instead to go forward with a policy now famous (or infamous, depending upon your point of view) in the long history of IU basketball.
Brand, in a May 15, 2000, news statement: “This is a zero-tolerance policy. If coach Knight had not agreed to all these steps, I would have recommended to the trustees that he be terminated now, and I believe the trustees would have concurred with that recommendation.”
The first week of September 2000 meant football returned to Bloomington. Philip Rivers’ North Carolina State team was in town for Cam Cameron’s fourth season opener as head coach at IU. More than 31,000 people attended a 41-38 Wolfpack win.
Kent Harvey, then an IU freshman, apparently planned to be one of them when he turned up at Assembly Hall on Thursday of that week, Sept. 7. Harvey was among a group reportedly at the arena to pick up football tickets, when it encountered Knight.
Harvey, speaking to the Indiana Daily Student in September 2000: “My intentions were to say, ‘Hi, Mr. Knight.’ It came out wrong. I said ‘Knight.’ The whole incident happened because I forgot to say ‘mister.’”
The story has been told different ways in the years since. What’s agreed upon is that Harvey greeted Knight, then Knight stopped Harvey to chastise him for a perceived lack of respect.
From there, stories diverged. Harvey’s brother said Knight grabbed Kent Harvey forcefully by his arm and loudly cursed, demanding more respect. Speaking in his defense during a news conference that Friday, Knight described the episode differently.
Knight, in a Sept. 9, 2000, IndyStar article: "I looked at him and said, ‘Son, my name isn’t Knight for you. It’s Mr. Knight or coach Knight.'"
Both Knight and assistant coach Mike Davis, who reportedly witnessed the incident, disputed Harvey’s account of the incident, particularly with regard to the nature of physical contact between the pair. In that same news conference, Davis called Harvey’s story “the biggest lie I ever heard in my life.”
Knight, in a Sept. 9, 2000, IndyStar article: “I would have to be an absolute moron, with the things that have been laid down on me, to grab a kid in public and curse a kid in public. That is absolutely, totally untrue.”
The story spread, fueled in part by Mark Shaw, a one-time Bloomington radio host and Knight critic. Shaw was also Harvey’s stepfather.
He contacted IndyStar the next day to report the incident.
Shaw, in a Sept. 9, 2000, IndyStar article: “I don’t care if we’re talking about Bob Knight, the president or some guy on the street, that kind of conduct is not tolerated. My stepson was shocked and intimidated by coach Knight.”
IU tasked its police department with investigating the incident.
Clapacs: “The incident in the Assembly Hall was, I thought, a lot to do about nothing. I didn’t think it amounted to much. And I certainly didn’t think it was a violation of the zero-tolerance policy. But because there was so much interest in all this — the police department was part of my portfolio in those days — we had the IU Police Department look into the matter.”
A report was expected the following Monday.
Clapacs: “The preliminary information I had from the police was that it was nothing. Really, nothing.”
But the story gathered force as it reached the media. Reporters and news vans descended on Bloomington. What once looked like a normal football weekend turned into something more.
Former Hoosier and current IU assistant Mike Roberts: “We used to all park our cars in that yellow circle drive (in front of the south entrance to Assembly Hall). They never towed us. You’d park there and all the sudden there would be all the media trucks. … When I tell you it was crazy, there wasn’t social media, but imagine being a kid and you get out of a meeting and there’s 45 TV trucks out there.”
Former Hoosier Jared Jeffries: “Never in a million years would you ever expect for coach to be let go, especially the way he was. I just remember when we kind of got the news that there had been another incident. Once we got the news that there had been another incident, we also thought there was no way Myles Brand would be able to let coach go.”
Players weren’t shy in the press that weekend, voicing their support for their coach. Sophomore forward Jeff Newton, who also reportedly witnessed the incident, said he never heard Knight swear.
Senior forward/center Kirk Haston, in a Sept. 10, 2000, IndyStar article: “Give this kid and his stepdad their 15 minutes of fame and then let them go back into the woodwork. People are trying to bait (Knight). It has just gotten worse. They all want to be the one to get Knight fired.”
Players began to sense the perilous nature of Knight’s position during a meeting with Brand and Doninger at halftime Saturday.
Roberts: “I just remember by Friday media being around, coach not being at workouts, and then it was kind of like, 'What’s going on?' We knew it was really serious when they had a meeting with us at halftime of the football game on that Saturday.”
IU’s campus had begun to polarize, many students rallying behind Knight. IU’s administration, Clapacs said, planned to wait until Monday, and the delivery of the police department’s final report, to make a final decision.
But Saturday, Brand also gathered the board of trustees together in a now-famous closed-door meeting. David Uchiyama, then an Indiana Daily Student reporter, was offered a job at the Chattanooga Times Free Press upon graduation for his coverage of one of the most talked-about gatherings of the board in its history.
Uchiyama: “It wasn’t the story (Knight) got fired. It was the pair of stories I did about the board of trustees and Myles Brand skirting sunshine laws. It was the stories about meetings at Brand’s house — if it wasn’t at Brand’s house it was at a trustee’s house — and Brand would go from one room to the other.
“They weren’t in the same room and so they weren’t ‘breaking the law’ because it didn’t constitute a quorum.”
Because Brand kept the trustees in smaller groups to avoid a quorum, the meeting could take place behind closed doors without breaking the law. The university would later face a lawsuit over that decision, one university counsel Dottie Frapwell defended it in the press.
Frapwell, speaking to the Herald-Times in October 2000: “People were in town and Myles was sharing information. We did not want a quorum there. That’s true.”
Whatever the board's mind, or Brand's, an IndyStar headline the next day dripped with uncertainty: ‘IU players not optimistic after meeting with Brand.’
Junior forward Tom Geyer, in a Sept. 11, 2000, IndyStar article: “I just didn’t leave with the feeling that coach’s job is real secure.”
On Sunday morning, Clapacs’ phone rang early. Brand was on the other end.
Brand had called not just Clapacs, but also Frapwell, then head of the office of university counsel. Separately, they drove to Brand’s home in Indianapolis.
According to IndyStar reporting, Brand had had a conversation the previous Friday evening with Knight. Knight planned to leave for a fishing trip, and Brand asked him to postpone. Knight declined.
From a Sept. 11, 2000, IndyStar article: "Brand told The Star he cannot pinpoint when he decided Knight had to go. But a case of 'gross insubordination' on Friday night didn't help.
"Brand and Knight were in a conversation about 10:30 p.m., discussing last week's incident, when the coach said he planned to leave Saturday morning for a Canadian fishing trip. Late Sunday, Knight returned to Indiana.
"Brand asked him several times to postpone the trip because of the ongoing circumstances that had the campus a whirl and to stay in Bloomington.
Clapacs: “Myles then said to me and to Dottie, ‘A third time, as president of Indiana University, and you as the basketball coach, I’m asking you to be here in my office on Monday morning. (Knight) said, ‘No, I’m not going to do that.’ Myles said, ‘Then I have no choice but to dismiss you from your coaching responsibilities at IU.’"
The next 48 hours were chaotic.
Brand hastily arranged for a news conference in Indianapolis. Media left the Colts’ home opener at the RCA Dome en masse. Everyone headed up West Street to IUPUI.
Uchiyama: “I was in the RCA Dome covering Colts-Raiders. The message was, ‘(Expletive) the game, get your ass (to IUPUI).’”
Players found out at a meeting called by head athletic trainer Tim Garl, then began making plans to drive to Indianapolis for the news conference.
Junior guard/forward Kyle Hornsby: “We all wanted to be there to be kind of visual support for coach. At that point, we were a little jolted, to say the least. When, from a personal and team standpoint, one of the reasons you came there is no longer going to be there, everybody was trying to figure out is this really going to happen, and then what’s going to happen to this team and this university from here. Who’s staying and who’s going? Who’s going to be the coach? What’s the coaching staff going to look like? Is there going to be revolt such that they’ll actually not do it? We didn’t know.”
Jeffries: “There were so many rumors. All this played out over the course of a week. It wasn’t like now, where it would be in real time, something happens and it’s all on social media, on Twitter, being reported live.
“We have a meeting. Tim Garl called and said, ‘Everybody in the locker room at this time.’ We all get to the locker room, go over it. He’s been fired, and they don’t know what’s going on.”
At the news conference, Brand laid out his reasons for firing Knight. He cited zero-tolerance, mentioned an alleged incident in which Knight “verbally abused a high-ranking female university official in the presence of other persons” and said Knight had flouted the authority of his superiors.
Brand in the Sept. 10, 2000, news conference: “There was a continued unwillingness by coach Knight to work within the normal chain of command of the IU athletics department. I personally asked coach Knight on May 13 to resume the normal chain of command with Athletics Director Clarence Doninger. He has adamantly refused to do that.”
The board split almost immediately. In that day’s reporting alone, trustee Peter Obremskey expressed support for Knight, saying, “The straw that broke the camel’s back, I thought, was a pretty weak straw.” Other board members saw things differently.
Trustee Stephen Backer, in a Sept. 11, 2000, IndyStar article: “If he had lived by the guidelines, we would all be living happily ever after.”
Then-trustee Ray Richardson told IndyStar “the votes were there to fire” Knight after the board’s investigation concluded in May. Richardson pointed to an unspecified example Brand put forth of “gross insubordination” from Knight over that weekend in September, saying it “exemplified the problem.”
Richardson in a Sept. 11, 2000, IndyStar article: “The university got all sorts of flak from the national media for giving Bob Knight one last chance, and then he failed us.”
Indiana’s campus community was rocked by the news. There were demonstrations outside Bryan House, the president’s on-campus residence, and outside Assembly Hall. News coverage the next day spoke of police officers in riot gear, and demonstrators burned what appeared to be an effigy of Myles Brand, while Knight made a brief public appearance Sunday night at Assembly Hall.
“There’s nobody that’s ever coached that appreciates the support of students as much as I have,” he told fans outside the arena, before asking them to go home so the police officers standing guard there could too.
Uchiyama: “(Knight) delivers something along the lines of, ‘Hey folks, really appreciate your support, thank you,’ whatever his message is. ‘But hey, you see these guys right here,’ referring to the state police, ‘they’re out here and they don’t need to be. They’re out here because you are. If you all go home, they can go home. They can hug their wife and kiss their kids.’
“He waved his hand and they were gone. That tells you the man still held a lot of power.”
Fellow coaches rallied to Knight. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who played for Knight at Army, called Knight’s firing “tragic.” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told IndyStar at the time, “For guys like me, I admired what he accomplished and what his programs stood for. Did I agree with everything he did? Not always. But I don’t agree with everything I do.”
Then-Kansas coach Roy Williams in a Sept. 11, 2000, IndyStar article: “People can say he’s had 100 chances, but I think he should have 100 more. The great things he has done completely outweigh the other things he gets criticized for.”
IU players met with Knight at his house, and many were also present at Brand’s news conference.
Jeffries: “Once we got the news he was going to be fired, it was like mayhem broke out. There were protests on campus. I went to my parents house, and then we had a meeting with coach at his house. It was emotional, man. There were guys saying they were with coach. Whatever he decided to do, wanted them to do, they were going to do it.”
Administrators moved swiftly to fill IU’s head-coaching position. Brand consulted players over the possibility of a search, but many, if not most, advocated for promoting either Mike Davis or John Treloar, two of Knight’s assistants.
Jeffries: "After they let coach go, and after there were rumors and rumblings that a lot of players weren’t happy, were thinking of transferring and leaving, I sat down with Myles Brand. He said, 'Should we start a coaching search right now?' I was like, 'No.'"
Junior guard Dane Fife in a Sept. 11, 2000, IndyStar article: “If (Davis and Treloar) are not kept on staff, we may not have a team next year. We may be left with four guys.”
IU floated the possibility of elevating the two men as co-head coaches, before deciding to name Davis interim head coach, with Treloar as his lead assistant.
Clapacs: “A lot of the players, I think they were afraid someone from the outside would come in. They were familiar with John and Mike, and they liked that solution very much. They were going to sort of co-coach. Somebody had to be the head coach, and that was Mike, and that was at John Treloar’s suggestion. But they sort of had equal responsibility, and as I recall, we paid them equally that year.”
Hornsby: “Every time (transferring) was brought up, I would say the vast majority of us said, ‘That’s crazy, we’re not all leaving.’ It wasn’t that some of us didn’t want to. I think some of us were even so emotional at the time that some of us may have said that. But I think as you sit down and realize, we loved playing with each other, we loved our teammates, we loved the university, and it was a tough situation to be in, but we needed to make the best decisions for us as well.”
The following Wednesday, Knight spoke to a large crowd at Dunn Meadow, in the heart of IU’s campus. He encouraged attendees to leave Kent Harvey alone, saying, “This thing, believe me, had happened to me long before that situation took place. That kid is not responsible for my not coaching at Indiana, and make sure you understand that.”
Knight also sat down with the Indiana Daily Student, then ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, for separate interviews after his termination.
Uchiyama: “We talked to Knight for four hours. He says, there’s somebody else I think you should talk to. You can ask him any questions you want. Out walks a man in a fine suit wearing an NBA championship ring and is unmistakably Isiah Thomas. We talked to him for about an hour, and we finish up with him, and Knight says, there’s someone else you should talk to, and it’s Digger (Phelps).”
Knight’s sitdown interview with Schaap covered a range of topics, including Knight’s claim that the university’s zero-tolerance policy had never been thoroughly explained to him. He also suggested he had considered an unnamed position elsewhere the previous summer, before deciding to remain at Indiana.
Knight in ESPN interview: “I probably should’ve gone somewhere else. There would be somebody that was a better fit as a basketball coach for this administration and these people. And there would be someplace that would be a better fit for me as a basketball coach than Indiana is right now. …
“I think for my sake, I think it would’ve been far better for me, recognizing as I did long before May, that this just wasn’t a situation for me, that I should’ve just gotten out of the situation.”
Schaap asked Knight in the interview whether he was “embarrassed” by his termination.
Knight in ESPN interview: “Not at all. What I am is proud. I am really proud of what our basketball program turned out at Indiana. I’m not going to single this player out or that player out, because I’ll miss players. But I’m just so proud of the kind of kid we’ve turned out here, and the kind of men these kids have developed into. I’m really proud of the accomplishments that these kids had.”
Knight sat out the season before taking the head job at Texas Tech in 2001. He coached there for more than six years, making the NCAA tournament four times.
For IU basketball, the controversy did not subside right away. But Davis worked hard to shut out distractions as much as possible, building a team spirit that lasted more than just one season.
Hornsby: “I remember vividly, the very next day, we had an early-AM practice where we just ran. I think looking back on that, I don’t think he was shy about it, but he just said things are going to be business-as-usual as much as possible. We’re going to work, we’re going to get better, it’s going to be tough, and if you’re not prepared for that, then you can’t be here.”
Roberts: “That team, by the next year, we were really good at blocking out distractions and not listening to outside noise. …
“From April 2000 through that entire year when coach Davis became the permanent head coach in March or April of ’01, it was never just basketball. There was always a lot of outside noise. We were like, ‘Hey man, let’s get to work. Let’s focus on what matters.’”
IU won 21 games in 2000-01, landing a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament and securing Davis’ job permanently. The next season, anchored by a veteran core, Jeffries’ Big Ten player-of-the-year performance and a roster hardened by immense adversity, Indiana played all the way to its first appearance in a national championship game in 15 years.
Jeffries: “You’ve really got to give coach Davis a lot of credit. Give coach Knight credit for putting together a really good roster. Coach (Knight), even when he talked to me before that year, two weeks into workouts, he was excited. He was going to get really creative.
“He felt like it was one of the best rosters he’d put together in a long time. He was excited about it. Coach Knight saw the talent, and coach Davis saw the talent.”
Off the court, IU’s fan base quarreled passionately. Some alumni swore they’d never come back to the university. Some, driven away by their objection to Knight’s prior behavior, returned. Folklore told of IU fans who began donating to Texas Tech to support their old coach, and Red Raiders apparel began turning up in Bloomington.
Evansville attorney Pat Shoulders, a trustee since 2002, served then as head of IU’s alumni association, putting him in front of thousands of alumni across the country.
Shoulders: “I came into the national chair of the IU Alumni Association on Sept. 1, 2000. Ten days later, I came home from work, and there were two television trucks in my front yard wanting me to comment on the dismissal of coach Knight.
“I was as close to an IU ‘official’ of any kind as the news in this town could find.”
Shoulders remembers Doninger being booed when he was introduced at football games. Presentations to individual alumni association chapters across the country could get equally tense.
Shoulders: “They were always well-attended. I can remember being in the San Francisco/Oakland area, down in Los Angeles. We would have sort of a canned presentation about IU and alums and new developments. We would say, ‘Are there any questions?’ and then you’d feel like diving under the table. All our alums wanted to talk about was coach Knight’s dismissal.”
It would take years for IU’s fan base to feel truly recovered. In some ways, it might never have.
Brand’s tenure as president lasted just two more years. He left Indiana to lead the NCAA, where he remained as president until his death in 2009.
Clapacs: “His whole agenda at Indiana University was over after that decision. He had to move someplace. No matter where he went, the issues of the university were always set aside because people wanted to talk about coach Knight and the firing. Was it the right thing to do? Was it the wrong thing to do? You couldn’t talk about, ‘I want to spend zillions of dollars on research,’ or, ‘I have a new academic program I want to put in place,’ or, ‘We’re going to do something with the hospitals in Indianapolis.’ Everything got back to coach Knight. And his wife had a tough time after that. I thought it was unfair.”
Clapacs insists Brand never wanted Knight’s tenure to end as it did.
Clapacs: “I can tell you this: Myles Brand did not want to fire Bob Knight. He admired coach Knight. He thought he was a great coach. He knew great coaches sometimes had difficult personalities. But he wanted to make it work. It was a great disappointment for Myles Brand to get to where it eventually did, when the dismissal came. He did not want to do that. I know that. We talked about it. Many times.
“He got a bad rap out of it. He was the villain all of a sudden. A couple years later, I went with Myles — he was at the NCAA then, and he called and he said, 'Will you be my guest to go to the Super Bowl in Detroit, the Steelers and the Seahawks.' He said, 'We’ll fly up and go to the game, be the special guests of CBS.' I said, 'Sure.' So, we go up, go to the Super Bowl. We’re sitting in the stands, and behind us, people started throwing pennies at him. I just thought he had a tough life after that.”
IU has not returned to the perch Knight set the program upon during his 29-year tenure. Davis’ time in charge peaked with the 2002 national title game. He was replaced in 2006 by Kelvin Sampson, whose NCAA indiscretions led to his removal after just two seasons and plunged the program into a years-long rebuild.
Tom Crean won a pair of Big Ten titles leading the Hoosiers, in 2013 and 2016, but inconsistent results led to his dismissal in 2017. His successor, Archie Miller, has yet to qualify for the NCAA tournament in three seasons in Bloomington, though it’s likely he would have last spring had COVID-19 not prompted the cancellation of the NCAA tournament.
After more than 19 years away, Knight ended his long estrangement from Indiana University when he appeared at halftime of a game against Purdue in February. Flanked by former players Quinn Buckner, Scott May and Steve Green, and his son, Pat, Knight was met with raucous applause by a sold-out Assembly Hall when he appeared on the court he’d once patrolled so successfully — and sometimes, controversially.
The moment proved healing for many, including some former players. Said former Hoosier Todd Leary simply, “We used to have to choose the Knight family or the IU family, and now we don't have to.”
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