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Savran: There was no conspiracy ... Knight's firing was long overdue

Sunday, September 17, 2000

You could almost hear him thinking, "Gee, I wouldn't be so paranoid if everyone wasn't against me." Bob Knight's absolute submersion in denial screamed through the television set during his "interview" Tuesday night.

His refusal to acknowledge that he was even remotely responsible for his dismissal was alternately chilling and sad. Based on an incredibly loose grasp of reality, he either cannot believe, or is unwilling to accept, that he was at least partially responsible for his unceremonious removal. It's clear he needs to be sitting on a psychiatrist's couch, not a court-side bench. The General is generally delusional. In fact, if you sincerely want to help the man, you might consider buying him a mirror for his next birthday present.

Two things have been forgotten by Knight and his apologists. Indiana University was his employer. And fair or not, they have a right to dismiss him for whatever reason they deem appropriate, from misconduct to wearing those ratty red sweaters. And it was Knight's long and embarrassing pattern of unacceptable behavior that brought this situation to its ultimate conclusion, not some conspiracy as Knight suggests and apparently believes. This "they were out to get me" routine may provide a villain for Knight to excoriate as he rationalizes his firing. But if they were hiding in the weeds waiting to "get him," it was only after he led them there.

If the incident that toppled him seems petty, that's because it is, although one wonders who appointed Bob Knight, of all people, Dean of Manners and Social Grace? But this particular incident of amazing arrogance was only the frosting on a cake that has been baking for 25 years, only Knight thought Indiana would never take it out of the oven. I'm sure he agreed to the zero-tolerance policy because he figured it would keep the university off his back for a while and that they'd forget about it and never enforce it. After all, he'd been getting away with aberrant behavior for a quarter century. Business as usual. It's not that Knight went too far this time, he went too often. And this time, for the first time, Indiana didn't forget.

Knight contends that he didn't understand what "zero-tolerance" meant. Let's remember one terribly vital fact: So desperate was he to keep his job, Knight agreed to the conditions of this policy. If he didn't understand the conditions, believed them to be unfair or ridiculous, or felt he couldn't comply with them, then he shouldn't have consented at the time.

Many in the media have portrayed Knight as a one-dimensional monster. That's unfortunate and inaccurate. This man has done much good, and not just on the basketball court. But no matter. Verbal abuse, physical abuse, tantrums, throwing flower pots at elderly women, altercations with police and fellow employees, and repeats of them all, are not offset by performance or the occasional good deed. The university is partially to blame. If you don't discipline your child at age 4, what can you expect when he's 14? Still, there comes a time when enough is enough.

A talk-show caller sagely wondered about the parallels between Knight and Woody Hayes. I did play-by-play for Ohio State football some years back during the Woody era, giving me an opportunity to observe the man. And the similarities between them are great 3/4 two extremely intelligent men, capable of engaging in high-level conversation on a variety of subjects, particularly military history. Both men evoked emotions ranging from love to intimidation to fear and loathing. That both men were brilliant students, and thus brilliant tacticians in their respective sports, is a given.

But while able to elicit and control the emotions of others, neither man was able to control his own. Professorial and authors of kindnesses largely unreported one moment, spinning uncontrollably into blind fits of rage the next.

Unfortunately, the last and lasting image of Woody Hayes is of slugging an opposing player. For Bobby Knight, if it hadn't been a brush with a heretofore anonymous student, it would have been someone else. Perhaps an Iowa guard or Michigan forward who beat him at the buzzer. Remember, Knight played basketball at Ohio State when Hayes was the football coach there, so he learned his lessons close-up. And well. Too well.

The bully finally got punched back. And now he stands crying on the playground with a bloody nose, wondering how life could treat him so cruelly.

Stan Savran is the co-host of "SportsBeat" on Fox Sports Pittsburgh.

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