LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The most unforgettable note in the will of former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith was a directive that every player who lettered for the Tar Heels during his 36 seasons as head coach be given a check for $200.
Bill Walton famously quarreled with John Wooden during their four seasons at UCLA, clashing over politics and hair length. Player and coach worked through it. Walton shares wisdom from Wooden whenever possible, especially on TV. It's powerful.
Folks at the University of Kentucky embraced Adolph Rupp as warmly as Louisville fans love Denny Crum.
Then there is the complicated, difficult and sometimes ugly relationship between Bob Knight and Indiana, which has been no relationship for most of the 19 years since Knight’s IU career ended with a firing.
Maybe the famously stubborn Knight is ready to write a gracious final paragraph to the place that helped him win three national championships and build his Hall of Fame career.
After years of ordering close friends to stop asking him to return to Indiana University (and snubbing a reunion of his unbeaten 1976 national championship team), Knight returned to campus for a baseball game last spring. It was national news.
On Thursday the Bloomington Herald-Times reported that Knight purchased property in the Bloomington area, a home valued at nearly $600,000. That stirred more speculation that Knight and his wife, Karen, will return to live in the residence about three miles from Assembly Hall.
Why not? The former coach has many close friends like retired sports writer Bob Hammel and IU team doctor Larry Rink, and former players, like Scott May and Quinn Buckner, in the area.
Next question: Will Knight make the final move that he has repeatedly said he will never make, attend a IU game in Assembly Hall?
It’s time. There won't be a better time.
Knight will be 79 in October. For more than a year, friends have worried about Knight’s health, especially his mental focus.
Concern escalated in April after Knight appeared with Hammel at a fundraiser in Indianapolis. A story in the Indianapolis Star said Knight called his time at IU the best years of his life but that he appeared disoriented.
In May, I asked a friend of Knight’s about the Star’s story. He said that based on his recent telephone conversations with Knight he was not surprised.
IU athletic director Fred Glass has dealt with Knight by reading a Henry Kissinger playbook.
The former coach has been invited to multiple Indiana events. He’s been voted into the Indiana athletic Hall of Fame. He’s been advised of the school’s willingness to build a statue in his honor.
The door will always be open — the way it was at Bart Kaufman Field when Knight and Hammel were given a private room to watch the baseball game last spring.
The thing Indiana has not done is the one thing Indiana should not do — apologize for firing Knight in September 2000.
No apology is necessary.
The former Indiana administration did what it needed to do. There’s no reason to scroll through the lengthy list of Knight’s transgressions other than to say that in today’s culture Knight would have not have lasted at Indiana (or any college campus) for 29 years considering his words and behavior.
Both sides erred. Humans occasionally do.
That was 2000. This is 2019.
This is about moving forward — by Knight and by Indiana University. This will never be a Smith/UNC or Wooden/UCLA warm and fuzzy situation.
Those two iconic coaches were not dismissed. They appeared at games during their retirements. Smith was replaced by his best friend, Bill Guthridge. Eventually, Wooden was replaced by several of his former players and assistants.
At Indiana, you still hear grumbling about hiring one of Knight’s former players, especially by people stuck in 2000. Archie Miller is the first replacement that Knight has complimented, but Indiana’s failure to contend nationally has exacerbated the fissure in the fan base.
If Knight is indeed moving back to Bloomington, friends and family should encourage him to make one more move — into Assembly Hall for an Indiana game and the adoration a segment of the fan base has been waiting to give him.
I'm not going to call it closure. I'm going to call it the right thing to do. It’s time. It’s the next chapter that the story deserves.
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