It was after midnight, and the players sat as silently as
strangers on an elevator, waiting for the last member of the
Indiana basketball entourage to board the bus outside the
Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C. The Hoosiers had
been humiliated 80-62 by Colorado about an hour earlier and
bounced out of the NCAA tournament in the first round for the
third straight year. They didn't know how their coach, Bob
Knight, would handle the most lopsided postseason loss of his
26-year career at Indiana, but they were pretty sure a stop at
Chuck E. Cheese was out of the question.
After a 14-1 start that included the championship of the
preseason NIT, the Hoosiers had lost 10 of their final 18 games
and slipped to sixth place in the Big Ten. Against Colorado in
the tournament they had barely put up a fight, and for much of
the game even Knight had appeared strangely docile and
disinterested, perhaps relieved that the Buffaloes, and not his
Hoosiers, would serve as the victims for North Carolina coach
Dean Smith's record-breaking 877th win in the second round.
Knight had called only one timeout in the game, with 7:15 left
in the second half and Indiana trailing by a hopeless 22 points.
After the game, with the players waiting so nervously you would
have thought Keyser Soze were coming, the bus driver finally
started up the bus. Knight would not be joining his players. He
had decided to walk back to the hotel. Two miles away. Through
questionable neighborhoods. In the rain.
Even some friends have expressed concern for the 56-year-old
Knight, who has won three national titles, the most recent in
1987. "It looked like he didn't care," says Roy Bates, a former
Indiana assistant, who watched the Colorado game on TV. "Maybe
he just decided he had a bad club and wanted to get the season
May 11, 1997
Woody Hayes and Bear Bryant are both gone now, and it seems the
General has fallen on hard times too. His teams are playing
soft, his methods are being questioned, most of the top high
school players in his usual recruiting hotbeds--Indiana,
Illinois and Ohio--are looking elsewhere, and a good number of
his supporters appear to be turning on him. In addition, last
month his top assistant, Dan Dakich, left to become the coach at
Some of Knight's peers believe that his heart is no longer in
the game and that he has lost what little affection he may have
had for the new generation of college players. "I don't think
Bobby likes kids today," says one prominent Division I coach. "A
lot of us really don't, but the rest of us don't show it. Kids
today are changing. They don't respect anybody. You have to deal
with that differently than you did a few years ago."
A day after the loss to Colorado, Knight called center Richard
Mandeville, forward Andrae Patterson and guard Neil Reed, all
juniors, into his office and told them to consider transferring
because, he said, they weren't going to play next season. Some
people around Bloomington think that this was a motivational
ploy, one used by many college coaches. The coach doesn't really
want the player to leave. He wants him to work harder and come
back stronger. In this case Reed took Knight at his word and
left the program. Reed also broke the code of silence observed
in such circumstances and spoke publicly of what he called
"verbal attacks and physical assaults" he had suffered at
Knight and his supporters shot back, accusing Reed of laziness
and a lack of discipline, a curious charge to levy against a
player who as a freshman played most of the season with a
painful separated shoulder. (Back then, Knight had even said,
"We're not tough at any position on our team with the exception
of Neil Reed. He's a tough kid, but with everyone else there's a
toughness that's lacking.") The Indiana administration, as
always, fell in line behind Knight, and his legions of
supporters recited a familiar litany: Knight runs a clean
program and his kids graduate--as if players at Duke, Kansas
and North Carolina move on to lives of crime and illiteracy once
they complete their eligibility.
The fallout from the Reed incident, however, turned into
something of a referendum on Knight, and the results were
surprising. Angry letters, many calling for Knight's ouster,
poured into Indiana newspapers. Even the sports pages of the
Indiana Daily Student, the school paper, treaded into unfamiliar
territory, daring to pose the most-whispered question in the
state in a headline: HAS THE GAME PASSED COACH KNIGHT BY?
With Knight, whose reputation as a skilled and demanding coach
with a hot temper and a foul tongue is well documented, there
has never been much of a gray area; in his mind, you are either
with him or against him. Now it was clear that a startling
number of fans and alumni were fleeing to the other side of the
red curtain. Knight's careerlong boorish behavior and his
tendency to hold grudges has eaten away at his core of support
and, perhaps for the first time at Indiana, left him vulnerable.
Says one Knight friend, "I told Bob a long time ago, if you're
going to alienate so many people, then you better win and win
big. Because when you don't, they're going to be lined up to
shoot you down when you fail. And that's what's happening."
Talk to coaches around the country and many will say that they
fear Knight will become the next Woody Hayes, referring to the
former Ohio State football coach whose career ended in disgrace
when he punched an opposing player near the sideline in full
view of television cameras. On March 24 The Indianapolis Star
ran a cartoon depicting Knight looking into a mirror. Woody
Hayes was looking back.
A dark cloud has descended on the Indiana faithful as they
confront a frightening question: Has Knight grown more stubborn
and ill-tempered with age? Even in its best days Knight's
program was never a fount of happiness, but of late the
atmosphere has seemed increasingly tense and dreary. Some
Indiana supporters are asking, Why does he have to be so rigid,
so foulmouthed? When will he accept some of the blame?
"In terms of discontent among IU fans, it has definitely
increased lately," says Rick Notter, editor of Inside Indiana, a
fan magazine that publishes weekly during basketball season.
"People are willing to overlook things when he's winning, but
now I think they're getting tired of his antics, his language,
just the way he treats people."
Brad Sutton is a 29-year-old optometrist in Memphis who can
afford to speak his mind. His opinion of Knight is not likely to
cost him business, which may not be the case for professionals
in the Bloomington area. (One car dealer declined to talk about
Knight on the record for fear that it would cost him sales, but
said, "If you put it on the ballot, he'd get voted out of
office.") During Sutton's eight years as an undergraduate and a
graduate student at Indiana, he rarely missed a home basketball
game, and until recently he was a staunch defender of Knight.
Now he's a vocal critic. "I think he's an embarrassment to the
university," says Sutton. "All you have to do is turn on the TV
and you see guys like [Kansas coach] Roy Williams and Dean
Smith. They're great coaches who have had a lot of success
without berating players and embarrassing their school. I know a
lot of alumni, and every single one of them is anti-Knight."
When Notter asked his readers about their feelings toward
Knight, he was surprised at the number of hard-core fans who
agreed with Sutton. After seeing the strongly anti-Knight
results of an Internet poll on Knight's worthiness to continue
as Indiana's coach that appeared on ESPNET SportsZone, Notter
put a poll of his own in the March 29 issue of Inside Indiana
and drew responses from more than 10% of his 15,000 subscribers.
Sixty-two percent of the respondents said they "agree with Coach
Bob Knight's handling of the Neil Reed incident and fully
support Knight as IU's head coach," but one third cast their
votes to say, "I fear Indiana's basketball program is in turmoil
and believe it may be time for a change." These weren't Kentucky
or Purdue boosters; these were Hoosiers fans. It was like
listening to Dittoheads disparage Ronald Reagan.
Bart Kaufman, 56, who graduated from Indiana in 1962 before
getting his law degree there in '65, is another die-hard
Hoosiers fan--and a generous donor to the university--who was
unafraid to share his views on Knight. A successful investor and
financial strategist from Carmel, Ind., whose family has held
season tickets to Indiana basketball games since 1946, Kaufman
says, "A significant number of people are unhappy with Coach
Knight at this point. I think all that yelling and screaming at
kids just doesn't work anymore."
It remains a mystery what Knight would say to explain his
behavior and the Hoosiers' struggles. He turned down interview
requests from SI for this article. Not that he would be likely
to utter mea culpas if he did speak. Knight appeared on ESPN's
UpClose with Roy Firestone for an hourlong interview in
February, and he defended or made light of his actions over the
years, including such notorious incidents as his throwing a
chair onto the court during a game in 1985. None of Indiana's
problems is his fault, it seems. None ever is. The world is to
blame. It changed. Kids are different today. They don't listen.
They're spoiled, soft, shallow. They like to shoot threes and
run the floor and, if at all possible, move on to the NBA in two
or three years. Some of them even want to get tattoos or grow
goatees or paint their fingernails. These are modern realities
that most coaches have learned to accept, while Knight still
stomps around, looking for clean-cut kids in letter sweaters who
would rather set a pick than see themselves on SportsCenter.
"Not everyone is going to be mentally strong and mentally tough
enough to play for Coach Knight," says former Hoosier Damon
Bailey, who graduated two years ago and is now playing
professionally in France. "A player going there with the right
frame of mind, which I think I had, can handle it. A player
wanting to have fun should almost definitely go somewhere else."
Unfortunately for Knight, there seem to be more kids each year
who cling to the notion that basketball should be fun. For
Knight and his assistants, the task of luring high school stars
into the joyless Indiana program--and then keeping them
there--has become more difficult than ever. The most gifted
recruits today are looking down the road toward a career in the
NBA, but these days that route rarely runs through Bloomington.
Only four former Hoosiers were playing in the NBA at the end of
the regular season, and just two, Calbert Cheaney of the
Washington Bullets and Dean Garrett of the Minnesota
Timberwolves, were starters. Contrast that to the late 1970s,
when all five starters from Knight's '76 championship team made
the NBA. Isiah Thomas, who left Bloomington after two seasons to
go to the pros in 1981, is the last true NBA standout to
matriculate under Knight.
Furthermore, college basketball, as Arizona emphatically made
clear at the Final Four, is now a game of up-and-down speed and
to-the-ball quickness. Officials look more permissively on
defenders who scratch and claw their way through and over picks.
That makes the interior screening and motion that characterize
the half-court passing game--Knight's pet offense--less
effective than it once was.
Knight's offense, however, is only one of the factors--and
probably a small one--in the Hoosiers' recent decline. More
significant have been his recruiting failures, including his
inability to sign top players from his tristate core recruiting
area. Knight used to go through the high schools in Indiana,
Illinois and Ohio the way the Big Six accounting firms go
through the Wharton School of Business, picking and choosing the
best and brightest. But things have changed. Although Indiana's
1997 Mr. Basketball, guard Luke Recker, has signed to play for
the Hoosiers, it seems the high school stars who know Knight
best these days are the ones most reluctant to sign on for four
years under his command. Knight's volatile presence and rigid
style of play do little to arouse the interest of recruits who
grew up watching Indiana. Starting with the 1994-95 recruiting
class, just five of the Hoosiers' 17 recruits have come from the
tristate area. That represents a steep falloff from the '80s.
Three years ago Knight welcomed a standout recruiting class that
included Patterson and Reed, both McDonald's All-Americas,
Michael Hermon, Rob Hodgson and Charlie Miller. They joined a
solid nucleus of Brian Evans, Steve Hart, Alan Henderson and
Sherron Wilkerson, to form what should have been a powerhouse
team. Then the troubles began. Hodgson, whom Knight decided to
redshirt, left before his first semester was over and ended up
at Rutgers. Hermon lasted one season before transferring to
Malcolm X Junior College in Chicago after his scholarship was
revoked because he didn't attend class. Hart also struggled
academically and transferred to Indiana State before the start
of his junior year. Then Wilkerson, who had a difficult time
recovering from a broken leg, was arrested for assaulting his
girlfriend in January '96. He was kicked off the team, later
pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of domestic battery for
which he received a 180-day suspended sentence and one year of
probation. He finally transferred to Rio Grande College in the
NAIA, which he has since left as well. Since Knight then told
Patterson and Reed to consider transferring after the loss to
Colorado, it was almost a total housecleaning by the time this
"There is probably a large faction of Indiana fans who are
unhappy, especially of late," says Hodgson, who averaged 11.9
points per game for Rutgers last season. "The thing with Neil,
that's just more fuel for the fire. The class I came with had
five people, and Neil makes three guys of the five who are gone.
We were heralded as one of the best recruiting classes. Now
we're fragmented. People can figure it for whatever reason."
Despite the superb high school credentials of that group, Knight
conceded in an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal in
late February that he has had difficulties on the recruiting
trail: "Our recruiting has been horse----. This is the first
group of kids that we've recruited that, by the time they were
juniors, hasn't become one of the best teams in the country."
It was also the first time local recruits avoided Indiana as if
it were haunted. "When I got there, nine of the 13 guys on the
roster had grown up in Indiana," says Evans, a 1996 Indiana
graduate who now plays for the Orlando Magic. "We knew all about
the tradition and the championships, and we understood what
Coach Knight is all about. I think on this past year's team
there was one kid who had graduated from an Indiana high school.
These kids are coming in from California and Florida, and they
really don't know what it's all about."
Homegrown recruits are discovering other, less painful options,
including that enemy outpost 125 miles northwest of Bloomington.
Four straight conference games are not all Knight has lost to
his Purdue counterpart, Gene Keady. The Boilermakers can also
claim nine in-state kids among their last 15 recruits. A number
of college basketball insiders credit Purdue assistant coach
Frank Kendrick with inflicting more damage to Knight's recent
fortunes than any other opposing coach or player has. In the
recruiting wars Kendrick, a standout with the Boilermakers in
the early 1970s, has outdueled Knight's crew locally since Keady
added him to his staff in '90. A year later Purdue landed Gary,
Ind., star Glenn Robinson, now with the Milwaukee Bucks, who
would have to sit out his freshman year as a Prop 48 case. Thus
began the Boilermakers' run on in-state talent--and of Big Ten
titles, of which they have won three in the past four seasons.
Indiana hasn't had a conference championship since 1993.
Kendrick, who is black, is known as a coach who can relate to
young black recruits in Indiana and beyond. The Hoosiers,
meanwhile, were the only team in the Big Ten last season without
a black assistant coach; they haven't had one since Joby Wright
left to coach Miami of Ohio in 1990. "Maybe I'm fortunate," says
Kendrick. "I'm a people person. I'm a straightforward guy who
can get along with anyone from any kind of background. I love
talking to kids about their problems."
The lack of an African-American assistant may be one reason so
many talented black players have transferred out of Bloomington.
In 1985 Delray Brooks left in the middle of his sophomore
season, and three years later Ricky Calloway departed after his
junior year. In '88 Jay Edwards failed a random drug test and
subsequently decided to turn pro after just two seasons in
Bloomington. Hart lasted two years and Hermon one before both
left in '95. All were players with quickness, a quality that has
been in short supply for the Hoosiers lately.
Knight is said to spend less time around his players than most
coaches, and he detests recruiting. "One of the players who
transferred from there told me that after the season players
don't see him for two to three months at a time," says one
Division I coach. "He's doing his own thing and doing it his way."
Knight rarely attends summer camps where the top high school
players are on display and is loath to deal with AAU coaches who
have increasingly become the people recruiters must deal with if
they hope to sign a blue-chipper. That's a laudable stand
perhaps but hardly a boon to the Hoosiers' recruiting fortunes.
Says one coach, "I'd love to be able to do the same, but he's
one of the few who can stand on principle, lose a bunch of games
and not lose his job."
For years Knight also was reluctant to recruit junior college
players. In his first 12 seasons at Indiana, he did not have any
J.C. transfers, but of late they have been almost as common in
Bloomington as players recruited from high school. Five of
Knight's 12 recruits in the last three years have come from
junior colleges, including the latest, 6'4" guard Rob Turner
from Tyler (Texas) Junior College and 6'8" forward William
Gladness from Carl Albert J.C. in Poteau, Okla. Gladness, who
signed with Indiana in April, fits into the traditional Knight
mold about as neatly as he fits into a 38 short sport coat. He
is a 22-year-old, married former construction worker who didn't
play basketball in high school because of academic shortcomings.
It is hard to imagine Knight pursuing such a player in the 1970s
or '80s, but then again, he probably wouldn't have needed to.
"I think Coach Knight, in 1970, recruited a certain type of
kid," says Pat Graham, an Indiana native who played for Knight
in the early '90s. "In '80 he recruited the same kid, and in '90
he still does. It hasn't changed. He still wants the kid he got
in the '70s, the hard-nosed gritty player. The problem is there
are far fewer of those kids today than there used to be."
"Coach Knight hasn't changed; I just don't think kids want to go
through the demands of his program anymore," says former center
Todd Lindeman, who graduated from Indiana a year ago and played
last winter for the CBA's Connecticut Pride, for whom Knight's
son Patrick was an assistant coach. "They all think they're
going to play in the NBA. They've got other options, and they're
just not ready for his strict procedures."
Reed thought he was ready. Although he graduated from a high
school in Metairie, La., he spent his sophomore year at
Bloomington (Ind.) South High and looked at Knight with the
requisite reverence. It was Reed's dream to play for Knight, and
while he knew it wasn't going to be all smiles and slaps on the
back, he still considered himself the ideal Hoosier: a scrappy,
hardworking, basketball-savvy coach's kid. Indiana was the only
place for him. "As a kid, you look at Indiana and say, Wow, I
want to play there," says Reed. "But then you get here and find
out what it's really like. It wears you down and eats you up. I
don't care what anyone says: There isn't anyone on that team who
doesn't dread going to the gym to face him every day."
It's like this, says Reed. The coach told him to leave, he left.
Happens every day in college basketball. Happens a lot at
Indiana, in fact. Since 1972 Knight has had 35 players leave the
program before their eligibility expired, which Indiana says is
only slightly above average for a Big Ten team. But in the last
five years alone, eight of Knight's 18 recruits have left early
or been kicked out.
Reed, however, refused to go quietly. "I know a lot of people
are saying I was a bad kid, that I didn't hold up my end of the
deal, but that just isn't true," says Reed. "I think the school
should hold up its end of the deal because there is a problem
there. And they should look into it."
Reed had hoped to finish this semester at Indiana and then
transfer, but when he returned to campus after spring break, he
found he was a pariah. The Indiana Daily Student ran a Page One
headline that read, REED VOTED OFF BASKETBALL TEAM. Reed laughs
at that one. Vote? Libya has freer elections than the Indiana
basketball program, he says. In the days after his resignation,
Reed says, he received 50 letters and 158 E-mail messages, many
of them supportive. He said he heard from former players who
applauded his stand, although he would not reveal their names.
Others jumped to Knight's defense and insisted Reed was a
problem child who set a poor example for the younger players.
Said redshirt freshman Larry Richardson, "I've seen Coach Knight
draw up plays and Neil go out on the court and do just the
"From what I've gathered from some of my buddies on the team,
Neil had some problems and talked about leaving the team during
the season," says Evans. "That can be such a negative thing to
the young guys who are looking at him. I think highly of Neil in
a way; he's a nice kid and I thought he was a pretty solid
player. But when it comes to executing what Coach wanted done on
a regular basis, Neil was not getting it done. I would just say
that Neil was not cut out to play for Coach Knight. Some people
are, some people aren't. Neil just wasn't one of them."
Apparently it took Knight a while to realize just how unfit Reed
was for his system. In his last two seasons at Indiana, Reed was
second among the Hoosiers in minutes played and was often on the
floor at crunch time. "If I was as bad as some people say," says
Reed, "then Coach must have been playing the wrong guy."
Lawrence Funderburke, a heralded Indiana recruit out of
Columbus, Ohio, lasted one semester in Bloomington at the start
of the 1989-90 season. Now playing professionally in France on
the same team as Bailey, Funderburke has no trouble believing
Reed's story because, he says, he lived through the same thing
seven years ago. "My situation was almost identical to Neil
Reed's: constant criticism and heckling, though no physical
abuse," says Funderburke, who transferred to Ohio State and then
had to sit out two seasons because Knight refused to release him
from his letter of intent. "When I left, I was amazed people
blamed me instead of Bobby Knight."
Reed isn't sure how many phone calls of support he received at
his Bloomington residence because, he says, "the answering
machine was in Andrae's room." Andrae Patterson was Reed's
housemate and friend until Reed left the team. Patterson, also a
junior, was encouraged to transfer by Knight at the same time
Reed was, but he chose to stay. The other junior at that
meeting, Mandeville, also decided to stick around despite
Knight's threat to not play him next year.
"I have a hard time blaming the players, but I can't respect
them either," says Reed. "I've been in that situation before.
We've had other guys transfer, so I know what's usually said
about people who leave. Knight makes it clear what he wants you
to say about them, and the guys are like, Oh, wow. Coach is
talking to me like a normal person. I better do what he says.
Believe me, his players don't say anything that are thoughts of
When asked to be specific on his charge that Knight had
physically assaulted him, Reed produced a clip from the
Bloomington Herald-Times that featured a photograph of Knight
with his hands wrapped around Reed's head. In the picture Knight
is face-to-face with Reed as he apparently scolds him during a
22-point victory over Ohio State in January 1996. Reed says he
won't cite other instances of physical contact "because I don't
want them to take me to court," but an SI staffer who was
sitting immediately behind the Indiana bench during the
Hoosiers' home game against Ohio State this past February saw
Knight berate Reed with such fervor that it shocked even a
veteran tantrum watcher. At one point in the 93-76 Indiana
victory, Knight pulled Reed from the game, and as Reed headed
for the bench, Knight yelled, "You'll never f---ing understand
how to play the game." With his face no more than a millimeter
from Reed's, Knight let loose a few more choice expletives
before concluding, "and that's why you'll never be a player.
During the next timeout Knight delivered a less personal but
even more profane tirade to Miller, at one point stringing
together about a dozen "f----," with no others words mixed in.
It has been said that General Patton, one of Knight's heroes,
spent all his time trying to be General Patton, working to live
up to the grand and imposing image that he had created for
himself. Knight at times seems to be making a similar effort.
His behavior, while surely unacceptable for any other coach at
any school in any sport, is almost expected of him now. Why
disappoint those folks who come to hear the swearing, to feel
the nervous tension that fills the arena as soon as he walks in?
To Knight, there can be no reason to temper the act because his
supporters can tolerate anything and his critics can affect
nothing. He even cashes in on the image: His commercial
endorsement deal with NutraSweet last season played off his
image as a bully. Much about the man may split Indiana fans
down the middle, but no one has ever doubted his stubbornness or
his absolute power. Says Reed, "It's obvious that Coach Knight
answers to no one."
As for Reed, he intends to transfer to another Division I
school, perhaps Southern Mississippi, where his father, Terry,
is an assistant coach. He may not win an NCAA title at his next
stop, but in three years with Knight, he didn't win a postseason
tournament game. He says basketball at Indiana now is all about
deflecting blame and protecting Bob Knight. And the real goal,
if you play for the Hoosiers, is simply to make it through the
season with your body and spirit intact. "When you play for
Coach Knight, you're not concerned with getting better," says
Reed. "You only worry about surviving."
Knight angrily pulled Reed from one game this year, yelling at
him, "You'll never be a player. Never."
"People are willing to overlook things when he's winning, but
now they're getting tired of his antics."
"Most of the guys used to be from Indiana. Now they're from
California, Florida and don't know what it's all about."
Insiders credit Purdue recruiter Frank Kendrick with inflicting
the most damage to Knight's program.
"At Indiana, you're not concerned with getting better," says
Reed. "You only worry about surviving."