September 10, 2000 – The gloomy weather in Bloomington, Ind. on that fall day could have been considered a bad omen. Every Hoosier’s worst nightmare was occurring in the swampy marsh of Dunn Meadow. Robert Montgomery Knight, the General, was giving his farewell speech to a group of angst-ridden and drenched student protesters. He did it in classic Bobby Knight fashion, but the day was far too sad to ponder such a triviality. What was to become of Indiana University basketball?
This was our nightmare.
After Bobby exited the makeshift stage to roaring applause, the IU basketball department was left without its one constant. The question soon became the title of a Matt Kearney tune, ‘Where do we go from here?’
I can honestly say I could not fully understand the severity of what had happened. I was in sixth grade, a Hoosier from birth, at least at heart, but born in New York, far away from the controversy. I knew Coach Knight was “the man,” but other than that I could hardly understand why my freshman sister’s floor mates stood in pouring rain for hours protesting his dismissal. To a child it was strangely simple. He was told there was zero tolerance, yet he broke that rule. That meant nothing to die-hard Hoosiers though. Basketball is life, and Bobby Knight was Hoosier basketball.
Ten years have passed and it’s been a tumultuous and curious decade to say the least. To give the full history of the last decade would not only be painstaking for me but also meaningless to most of you. We lost our identity, our soul. It would be like Duke firing coach K or Penn State firing JoePa. But really, it cannot be compared to anything else. Bobby Knight was perfect for the state of Indiana. No one ever questioned the General: he was our guy and every hard-working Hoosier took pride in him. He wanted to win as badly as we did.
To most Hoosiers, the General could do no wrong. But with reality came consequences. No one can take away what Bobby did for the IU basketball program, but at the start of the new millennium, it became increasingly clear that the team was on the downswing. Coach Knight had grown tired and stubborn to a fault. Although he still wanted to win as badly as anyone, he couldn’t keep up with the changing dynamic that was college recruiting. The reliance on man-to-man defense even when it killed us and staying true to the motion offense even when the opponent knew what was coming were things that Hoosier fans turned a blind eye to. It was Bobby; what more could be said?
No one wanted to see the General go this way. It had looked increasingly likely that Pat Knight would take over the program and Bobby would finally call it quits. But university President Miles Brand had other plans.
After all the dust had cleared, Mike Davis was the head coach of Indiana University men’s basketball. It sounded foreign to all the Hoosier faithful. But no one could follow the great one; no one. Not even a national championship game run could convince the Hoosier faithful to accept Mike Davis; he just wasn’t Bobby. But I’ll be the first one to say, it wasn’t fair to Davis. He was a damn good coach and a helluva recruiter, but we couldn’t accept that. “He can’t recruit in-state; we missed the NCAA tournament.” These complaints seem, to put it lightly, unwarranted during the present. But it is what it is and we moved on, but I can’t say it was for the better.
We all know what happens next. Kelvin Sampson effectively brings us into the darkest, lowest point ever reached by the IU basketball program. “Bobby always did it the right way….” Every Hoosier fan said that at some point after everything crashed down. Yet that was the past. What was now true was that we were back to square one. Nearly the entire team had departed or had been given the boot, and rightfully so. Tom Crean was given the job of repairing an entirely broken program and a fan base in shock.
I have to be honest; I was beginning to get discouraged with Tom Crean’s Hoosiers after the second season of watching piss-poor basketball. I was beginning to think he wasn’t the guy for the job. Too many in-state recruits were getting away and the current team was playing some of the sloppiest, most uninspired basketball I had ever seen. But there is renewed hope. Crean is starting to get some major commitments from some of his biggest targets (still waiting on Cody Zeller…) and the upcoming season looks promising with Maurice Creek, who led all freshmen (yes, in the entire NCAA) in scoring last year before suffering a gruesome knee injury. I’m starting to believe that there is once again hope for this basketball program.
But the ultimate goal of this column is to make a greater statement about the state of the Indiana University basketball program – scratch that – make a plea to all the Hoosier faithful that we stop looking back and start looking forward; to fully move on from the Bob Knight era, as hard as that may be. I always used to resent Brand for using the firing of Bob Knight to advance his career, but I’m starting to realize, that was the only way Coach was gonna go, and it had to happen if IU was going to get back to prominence.
I have the utmost respect for what Coach Knight did for this program, but with this ten year anniversary, I hope we can move on and realize that there is hope for the future and that we may become the program that we once were. Because when it comes down to it, we’re still Indiana and we still have five banners hanging in Assembly Hall, whether Bob Knight is our coach or not.
Am I positive that Tom Crean will be the coach to hang a sixth banner in Assembly Hall? No. But I do know that the future is bright, at least much brighter than that dreary, hopeless, Sunday afternoon.