Sunday, April 15

Bobby Knight, You Bastard!

There are people who think Texas Tech basketball coach Bobby Knight is an ass.

I don’t think, I KNOW—and I’ve known it for more than thirty years. Put me down as one of his earliest and most vocal (if not well-known) detractors.

First, a word about Chet Coppock. Chet was Sports Director for WISH-TV in Indianapolis when I was EP there in 1976. You’ve heard the term “larger than life?” Chet most certainly was. He stood at least 6’7” tall. Got his start in sports announcing, if I remember, with the Roller Derby. I've seen a picture of him from those days wearing a white floor-length fur coat and a white fur gangsta hat. His voice was what is charitably called “booming.” His laugh shook rafters.

Chet, if you ever read this, sorry to be referring to you in the past tense. I know you’re still alive and kicking and working for “ESPN Radio 1000 AM” in Chicago. I’m still a fan.

Some people weren’t fans. Chet would say just about anything to start the juices flowing, to get a rise out of people. In Indiana, of all places, he was critical of the Notre Dame football team (although a lot of that bluster was just to stick the needle in anchorman Mike Ahern, a ND alum). And, sacrilege, he was critical of “The General,” Bobby Knight, and the heavy-handed way Knight ran the Indiana University Hoosier basketball team.

I don’t need to fill you in on Knight’s long and…uh…”colorful” career: the chair tossing, the referee baiting, the screaming, the player choking, the profanity, the bullying. All I can do is tell my own, “Bobby, You Bastard” story.

In the fall of 1976 The Hoosier basketball team was coming off a national championship. The football team, under Head Coach Lee Corso (that’s right, the same Lee Corso who works as a commentator for ESPN today) was, as usual, struggling. Chet and I went to Bloomington to cover the Indiana/Nebraska football game.

We were in the Memorial Stadium press box (the football stadium press box, mind you) when Knight caught sight of us and started loudly demanding that we be kicked out of the facility and off campus. His reason, apparently, was that Chet had said some things that made Knight unhappy—and as we have all come to know, an unhappy Knight is a vocal, insufferable, bullying Knight.

What I remember best is what happened next. This small army of university officials—toadies, suck-ups, brown-nosers, ass-kissers, sycophants, hangers-on—surrounded Knight and tried to calm him.

I couldn’t hear much of the conversation, but I swear several of the voices sounded like Elmer Fudd:

Pwease, Bobby, heh-heh-heh. Pwease don’t make any twubble, Bobby. Dis is the footbaw pwess box, heh-heh-heh. We aw not shoo Coach Corso would appwoove. Pwitty pwease wet dem stay, heh-heh-heh.”

Coach Knight, ever the "gentleman", deigned to allow us (the rabble) to stay. And that small army of university officials slinked to the men’s room to clean their own pee off the front of their pants.

I haven’t had much use for Bobby Knight since that day: but hey, he can’t control himself, he’s mentally ill. I’ve had ZERO respect for Indiana University officials since: it took another 14 years for IU President Myles Brand to grow a pair and fire Bobby Knight. What price basketball success? Indiana University sold its soul to the devil and got Bobby Knight in the bargain. I don't think the basketball success was worth it.

By the way, the defending National Champion Hoosiers basketball team went 16-11 the next season; right, Chet?