A simple pail of water extinguished the Wicked Witch of the West, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that it took just four little words to drop a house on her real-life roundball counterpart, the Player-Choking, Vase-Hurling, Boss-Disrespecting, Chair-Chunking, Blue-Streak-Cussing, Son-Kicking, Bad-News Basketball Coach of the Midwest.
A casual encounter last week with a freshman who said, “Hey, Knight, what’s up?” perhaps as greeting, perhaps as baitspun Indiana coach Bob Knight into a furious, arm-grabbing lecture about the respectful way to address one’s elders. His violent reaction to this perceived breach of civility provided the final insult to the credibility of the university’s board, which had drawn and erased its imaginary “do not cross” line several times since placing Bad Bob on probation a few months back.
As late as Sunday morning, the Media Geniuses on ESPN were pontificating that the university could never summon the nerve to shoot the Liberty Valance of Bloomington.
In the end, Bob shot himself. It was almost as if he concluded, immediately after the school set standards for his conduct, that he could never change his style, and therefore his job was doomed, and he would lift no finger to work within anyone’s guidelines.
Throughout the summer, he skipped alumni functions that coaches were expected to attend. He refused to communicate through his boss, Indiana’s athletic director, with whom he had a public altercation in the spring. He excoriated a female colleague. Finally, the administration, which would have caused the most rubber-spined contortionists to break out in hives had they been able to bend over backwards any farther, had to choose between canning Bobby and conceding that the basketball coach was the absolute lord of their state.
Many observers seemed shocked when the end came. (The story was front-page news, even in The New York Times.) Many professed sadness over what, to them, was a Greek tragedy, while others treated the firing decision like some profile in courage. But the only real tragedy was that the coach’s fast breaking of his probation robbed us of the entertainment of Bob-baiting that was sure to occur at post-game press conferences this year. The shock wasn’t that IU’s administrators realized they were vertebrates but that Knight, the iron disciplinarian, displayed so little self-discipline. I figured he could make it at least until the first week of the season before blowing himself up.
The rest of it was funny as hell. You have to hand it to ol’ Bob for sheer brass clank. For the guy who once waved used toilet paper in the faces of his players to lecture anybodyeven the most obnoxious stumble-drunk frat boyabout manners, is so audaciously, brazenly over the top that the Pentagon should hire him to help plan military strategy. Then, outdoing himself, Bobby suggested with a straight face that only a moron would grab a student knowing that his every act was under scrutiny (um, yu-uh!).
Also reliably in character was a large percentage of Hoosier hoops fans, who, we now may assume, would drink poison Kool-Aid together if the General commanded it. Had George W. referred to Bobby instead of some journalistas a major-league sphincter, the most rock-ribbed concentration of Republicans east of the Mississippi would have immediately bolted to Gore, sent cash to Hillary’s campaign, and joined the ACLU. Not since the Ayatollah Khomeini tumbled out of his coffin has a despot’s funeral inspired such a wailing, teeth-gnashing hubbub. In the wake of Knight’s firing, some supporters flew their red-and-white IU flags upside down in protest. Thousands marched on the home of the university president, Myles Brand, which was protected by police in riot gear. (Murray Sperber, a professor who has long criticized Knight, fled Bloomington, fearing for his safety.) On the school’s campus, posters appeared bearing a photo of the student who offered the flippant “What’s up?” along with the caption “Wanted: Dead.” One sign read, “Bob Knight is God.”
Under those circumstances, taking on the Great and Powerful Bob requires a certain fortitude. On the other hand, if you want to see real courage, I have a suggestion for President Brand and the board of regents: To the players threatening to boltand deprive Indiana of a team this yearoffer to drive them to the Greyhound station. Better still, shut down the whole IU men’s basketball program for a couple of years. Shut it down until the fire-eaters in the booster club come to Canossa and renounce basketball as their school’s chief reason for existence. Remind them of Jesus’ tough prescription: “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”
While we’re at it, shut down Kentucky basketball for a while, too. Make Linda Bensel-Myers the athletic director at UT. Shut down Florida and Alabama, Auburn and Georgia. Shut down Nebraska, Ohio State, Florida State, and Texas. Shut down programs everywhere that posit football or basketball as religion. Shut them down not to punish the coaches but the fanatics who make them into gods. Now that would be courageous. While I’m holding my breath, I’ll take pleasure in this week’s small victory over big-time jerkdom. And if I happen to run into Bob Knight in some hallway, I certainly would address him as “Coach” or “Mister.” But I couldn’t resist humming “Ding, Dong, the Witch Is Dead.”
How it looks from the La-Z-Boy
Florida 23, Tennessee 14
Don Sundquist must be grateful for Steve Spurrier. After all, if not for the Florida coach (and Tennessee native), the guv would be the state’s most reviled man.
Stevie Superior has earned his reputation through unrelenting cockiness, his ineradicable smirk, a steadfast refusal to observe traditional niceties when speaking of opponents, and, most of all, his ability to back up the smack with W’s. After this Saturday, Vol fans will have even more reason to loathe Swaggerin’ Steve. The Gators will bring the league’s most formidable defense into Knoxville, and chances are they’ll overwhelm the less-experienced Orange offense. If turnovers don’t dominate, the Gators will.
Ole Miss 24, Vanderbilt 21
Yeah, Vandy got hosed by the refs. Twice. Once, it cost the Commodores a go-ahead touchdown. (And by the way, NCAA Governing Body Geniuses, since you’ve allowed college football to become a vast revenue-generating entertainment business, and since the financial stakes riding on each game are so high, how about springing for replay cameras like the “pros” have? Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech, last week’s chief zebra victims, and the rest of us would thank you.)
Of course, whether Vandy could have beaten Alabama had the blown calls gone its way remains a highly debatable proposition. Last week, like so many times before, the ’Dores wilted in the final period against a team with superior depth. There’s not much reason, except the motivating power of anger, to believe the pattern will change against an Ole Miss team with the SEC’s best tandem of running backs. One more close one, still no cigar.
Southern Miss 17, Alabama 16
Auburn 24, LSU 14
Arkansas 31, Boise State 13
BYU 27, Mississippi State 24
Kentucky 30, Indiana 23
South Carolina 20, E. Michigan 16
Jackson St. 30, TSU 20
Purdue 34, Notre Dame 17
Michigan 27, UCLA 20
Rams 45, 49ers 17
Buccaneers 19, Lions 7
Bills 23, Jets 17
Ravens 19, Dolphins 13
Jaguars 41, Bengals 14
Steelers 17, Browns 14
Vikings 31, Patriots 20