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Good Knight or Goodbye

College basketball: Indiana coach keeps job but must adhere to 'zero-tolerance' policy.

May 16, 2000|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

INDIANAPOLIS — The chair-chucking, vase-heaving, neck-clenching, tongue-lashing, knock-down days of Indiana basketball Coach Bob Knight apparently came to an ordered end Monday at a dramatic downtown news conference packed with Klieg lights and reporters.

No, the legendary coach was not fired.

Instead, he was metaphorically clipped to a leash and bound to a fence.

By mandate of Indiana University President Myles Brand, Knight will change his ways or cease commanding the proud program he has dominated and controlled for 29 years.

Not only will Knight never again wrap his thick hands around the neck of a student-athlete, Brand said, the coach has even been instructed to cooperate with the media.

On a momentous Monday ignited by a chain-reaction March allegation that Knight choked former player Neil Reed at a 1997 practice, Knight agreed to a set of conditions that allowed him to keep his job.

"This is a zero-tolerance policy," Brand said. "If Coach Knight had not agreed to all these steps, I would have recommended he be terminated now."

As stipulated, Knight was suspended for three games next seasons and fined $30,000.

He also agreed that any "verifiable inappropriate physical contact discovered in the future with players, members of the university community or others in connection with his employment at IU" would be cause for immediate termination.

Knight agreed that, at functions in which he is a representative of the university, he will conduct himself with "appropriate decorum and civility. Included among these occasions are interactions with the news media."

Brand also announced that a commission would be established to develop policies for appropriate behavior for all coaches, athletic department employees and student-athletes, to be headed by Athletic Director Clarence Doninger, whose relationship with Knight can generously be described as "strained."

Can a 59-year-old coach who has brilliantly bullied his way to three national titles and 763 victories, who has ruled by fear and intimidation and presided over a basketball fiefdom suddenly adhere to such a code of conduct?

"He's given me his word he'll take these steps to change his behavior," Brand said. "He is a man of integrity. He says he will live up to it. If he cannot, he will be terminated."

Knight did not attend Monday's conference conference. Reporters were told he was en route to Europe on a previously planned vacation.

Before leaving on vacation, Knight brushed off a couple of reporters who sought comment in Bloomington.

"Why talk now when so many things are said without ever giving me a chance to talk?" Knight said.

Knight issued a statement that read, in part: "I have absolutely no problem with guidelines. The establishment of effective and proper guidelines can, in the long run, help me become a better coach.

"As I have said before, I recognize that I have a problem with my temper. For those times it has ever caused me to do anything that gave anyone understandable and justifiable reason to be upset, I am sincerely sorry."

Brand said Knight will offer a formal apology to athletic department secretary Jeanette Hartgraves, whom Knight verbally berated in 1998, but the coach will not be required to offer a formal apology to Reed.

"He offered a general apology to all others involved," Brand said.

Reed, appearing Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live," called the university's handling of the situation "shady."

After reporting the choking incident, he said, "I was basically discarded and almost run out of town. . . .

"They did conduct an investigation, but it was an oral investigation and there was no written record of it."

A seven-week probe by the nine-member university board of trustees concluded that Knight had put his hands on Reed's throat. John D. Walda, who headed the investigation, said a forensics expert verified that a videotape of the incident was authentic.

As to whether Knight choked Reed, Walda said, "that depends on how you use the word 'choking.' "

cusations against Knight, many of which Walda said were substantiated.

"What we found was a lengthy pattern of troubling behavior by Coach Knight," Walda said.

Despite that pattern, with incidents dating back more than 20 years, Brand said there "was no incident that, by itself, rose to the level of termination."

Yet, Brand said he was considering termination as late as Saturday night, when Knight, who has long worked deftly behind the scenes, apparently saved his job with some last-minute maneuvering.

First, he independently issued a 330-word statement admitting to a decades-old problem with his anger management, in a sense throwing an olive branch to Brand.

He then impressed Brand with a late-night meeting at the president's campus residence. Brand said the meeting was unique.

"I had never seen him before contrite and apologetic," Brand said.

Brand said the statement and meeting affected his decision.

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