Max and I greatly admire Coach Knight, whom we have both met on several occasions. Coach Knight’s mentor, Coach Everett Dean, coach of the Stanford NCAA National Champion team in 1942, was a graduate of Salem High School. Max, the principal of SHS from 1971-1997 had several occasions in which to meet Coach Knight and visit with him in his [Max’s] office before events, such as dinners where Coach Knight was the featured speaker. One special event was the dedication of the SHS basketball floor as the Everett S. Dean Floor, the gymnasium having been named in honor of another man, named Brooks.
I met Coach Knight when my son Jim attended basketball camp at Indiana University as a boy during several summers back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Met here basically means “been in the presence of”—no need to suggest that we are even speaking acquaintances. I thought he was the most intimidating man I had ever met; he had mastered the gruff persona that kept basketball mothers at bay. However, Jim held Coach Knight in the highest respect and would probably have died of joy had he received a basketball scholarship to IU. That was not to be and Jim played for The College of William and Mary instead, where his coach was a former IU student manager and a mentor of Coach Krzyzewski. My younger son Dan was a student manager for Coach Knight during his freshman year at IU, certainly one of the most exhilarating experiences of his life. Dan also worked in The General’s Store one summer, even posing in sports clothing for the store’s ad brochure, something he would not have done for any other human.
Several things evoke my admiration for Coach Knight. One, he runs clean programs: his players graduate and those who violate team rules, such as doing drugs, are expelled. Considering the entertainment pressures of today, running clean sports programs requires serious ethical standards. Two, he is loyal to friends and players. When one of his players was paralyzed in a car wreck, Coach Knight raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and set up a trust fund for the player’s care. Coach Knight’s support and care of Coach Dean, up to the end of Dean’s life at age 95, was a pleasure to observe. Three, he quietly does things to support education, such as the millions of dollars he raised for the IU libraries while he coached at IU. Four, as his record indicates, he is an outstanding coach. Five, he is no sissy; his passionate personality does not simmer deep within, but instead is carried quite close to the volatile surface. Okay, he has a temper and tends to tear up stuff when he gets mad. Type A men are like that; Type A women, too. Dan and I happened to attend the ball game with the famous chair-throwing incident. It was quite entertaining and no one got hurt. Grown men are not supposed to act like that in our hypocritical society. Raw aggression is supposed to be quelled and/or hidden. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood made millions, not to mention Swartzenaker, acting out Type A behavior. Coach Knight, while colorful in language and coaching behavior, has done great good for thousands of people. I would prefer to live in a world with a million Bobby Knights and zero George Bushes. What a creepy society we live in. Men of integrity and virtue, such as Coach Knight, are suggested as candidates for “anger-management” classes, while the corrupt politicians who run our country put on displays of genteel, churchy behavior as they line their pockets and those of their friends—Cheney, Rummy, Bush, the K-Street bunch [now in or on their way to prison], the media who fail to challenge them, et al. These men have started an unnecessary war, engaged in massive violations of human rights, including horrifying torture, and attempted to trash the Constitution, etc., all the while pretending to be Christians and gentlemen. Knight’s outbursts are way too Wild West for today’s culture; we do not allow rage to flourish. Of course, I don’t approve of Knight’s aggressive behavior and yet I think the great good Knight has done and the high standards of ethics [not behavior] he exemplifies outweigh the outbursts. Reporters love to reveal his churlish behavior, while similar behavior in others is ignored or hidden. Most of us are fortunate enough not to have our bad behavior filmed for public view and analyzed in books, magazines, and newspapers. I think reporters make too much of it; after all, Knight is a basketball coach, not a symphony conductor or museum director. It’s foolish to suggest that collegiate and professional sports are genteel undertakings. Perhaps Coach Knight’s aggressive behavior reveals too much about the raw violence and viciousness of today’s sports world. In taking a full measure of the man, in my opinion, Coach Knight is a truly great American and a man of high ethics and integrity. I kicked a chair a while ago, Coach, just for you.