- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 20, 2000

Controversial Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight, accompanied by his wife, paid a visit late last Saturday night to the home of school President Myles Brand and made a passionate plea into the early morning hours to retain the job he has held for 29 years. A contrite and remorseful Knight, showing a side Mr. Brand said he had never seen before, managed to convince the university president to reverse his earlier, unannounced decision to terminate Knight. He's giving the coach "one last chance" Mr. Brand's words to change his outrageously boorish behavior.

On Sunday, after the Knight-Brand late-night meeting, the university's board of trustees, which had conducted a seven-week investigation that confirmed numerous allegations charging Mr. Knight with physically and emotionally abusing his players and his colleagues, suspended Mr. Knight for three games next season and fined him $30,000. Belatedly, university officials have also established explicit ground rules governing the future behavior of their coach, and Mr. Knight has been put on notice, privately and publicly, that the new "zero tolerance" policy will be enforced without exception. Compared to the ultimate sanction, which would have been the firing of Mr. Knight, the penalties were rather mild.

Indisputably, Mr. Knight's coaching career has been filled with bad judgment decisions on and off the court. During one game, he hurled a chair across the court. During a practice, he briefly grabbed one player by the throat. He once threw a vase against the wall, frightening an elderly secretary. The list seems endless. Although Mr. Brand said no single episode would have justified Mr. Knight's termination, the coach would have had no one but himself to blame if he had been sent packing. Regardless of whether clear ground rules had been in place, the accumulation of boorish behavior over the years would have justified a decision to fire Knight.

But there is another column on the Knight ledger. And it doesn't only include the three national championships his Indiana University teams have won, the four times he has been named coach of the year, and the fact that 12 years ago he became the winningest coach in Big Ten history a combined record of achievement that put him in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991. By all accounts, Mr. Knight achieved these goals by running an impeccably clean program, never once running afoul of NCAA rules. That's not something one can take for granted these days.

Most of his former players, despite Knight's frequently intemperate behavior, revere him. In one major respect, it isn't difficult to understand why. Throughout his career, Knight has achieved a graduation rate of 77 percent, a level that is nearly double the average rate for men's college basketball. Not surprisingly, when Knight's job was on the line, several current players stepped forward to announce their support of him, including one starter who promised to transfer if Knight were fired.

Undoubtedly, President Brand and the board of trustees weighed the good with the bad. In the end, Knight's contrition and his commitment to change his ways tipped the decision in his favor. On balance, he probably deserved "one last chance," which he desperately sought in order to finish his Indiana career as college basketball's winningest coach. Needing 117 victories to surpass Dean Smith of North Carolina, Knight can conceivably reach this goal in five years. Unless he changes his ways, however, it will not be and it should not be at Indiana. At last, even Bob Knight now apparently understands this.

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