What I love about New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick (and about the only thing I love about him) is that he can take an event that happened two minutes ago, stand up in front of a room full of media professionals and respond to sticky questions about the event with a simple, “It’s in the past.”
When Belichick says that, whether you love him or hate him, you have the distinct feeling, the king has spoken. So let it be written. So let it be done.
Indiana University Athletic Director Fred Glass should take note. To look more like the king of IU athletics and less like a court jester, he must stop pursuing a relationship with Bob Knight, who (in case you live in a cave and don’t know) was fired at Indiana 10 years ago today.
No more five-hour meetings at out-of-the-way restaurants. No more invitations to Bloomington-based honorary ceremonies. No more snuggling up with Bob Hammel. Please, for the love of everything that is Hoosier hysteria, no more Bob Hammel! He’s long since lost any sense of rational perspective when it comes to Knight. And that’s OK. I’m the same way with my good friends. But the university does not need his intermediary assistance.
This is what I know about Bob Knight: He won a lot of basketball games and three national titles as a coach. He did it all while never breaking an NCAA regulation, all the while beating a lot of folks who weren’t nearly as clean when it came to playing by the rules. He did a lot for the IU library and several other not-for-profit causes. He got into an altercation with an LSU fan who said he was going to be Tiger bait, smashed a phone during an NCAA game, fake whipped a black player (Calbert Cheaney) in front of news cameras, threw a chair during a game against Purdue, made an ill-advised comment about rape, and he never visits Puerto Rico (if you don’t know why that is, Google it).
He lifted up a lot of people. And he also hurt a fair number of people, including the players on his final IU team.
All this has been reported many times.
What’s less known is that from a business perspective, Knight was simultaneously the IU athletic department’s biggest asset and liability. He was the rainmaker, king, judge and jury when it came to IU athletics for many years.
Unfortunately, what resulted was a series of puppet athletic directors and as one current IU higher-up recently told me “a fat, dumb and happy” athletic department staff.
When Knight was fired, I was told, IU virtually had no athletic department to fall back on. And there was great fear that school supporters—financial and otherwise—still loyal to Knight, would leave in droves.
Nine rocky years followed.
With the hire of Fred Glass, the last of the dead wood appears to have gotten cut away. Glass didn’t bring in any high-priced minions, but instead cut senior staff by one-third. He also made strategic hires in marketing and compliance.
Those two areas never got a boost during the Knight era for two reasons. One, Knight was the marketing machine, and secondly, with Knight in control there was no reason to monitor compliance much. Whether you love him or hate him, you have to largely credit Knight for keeping IU athletics clear of NCAA violations—even beyond the basketball program. Unfortunately, the model under Knight became somewhat dysfunctional for a whole bunch of reasons I won’t go into here.
“The re-birth has started,” Glass told me recently of the school's athletic department.
But the re-birth won’t truly be completed until the IU-Knight issue—once and for all—is dead.
Long live the king!
But who, some still ask, when it comes to IU athletics, is the king?
I don’t know everything, but I know when it comes to the effectiveness of kings, like business executives, it’s about who is following behind, not who you’re chasing after.
One thing I know for sure, a specter can’t be king. Nor in the king’s court.
Knight’s refusal to attend his Hall of Fame induction last year should bring an end to any public attempt by IU to bring him back.
A specter must be put where it belongs.
In the past.