Bob Hammel on Bob Knight: whodunnit?

Dateline: Fri 08 Feb 2008

The announcement that Coach Bob Knight is hanging it up this week as men's basketball coach at Texas Tech brought, predictably, a blitz of excellent and cheap media coverage.

It was sad to see how far off point the Star's premiere (or best paid) sports columnist Bob Kravitz was, with his idle speculation Wednesday that Knight was NOT doing it his way but rather was a bitter coach-in-exile, who might even return to coaching some day. Hah? And the evidence for that is ???

A quite opposite and much better-crafted take was presented by the Chicago Tribune's Skip Mylenski Tuesday. Writing under the headline: "His Way: The highway," Mylenski said, simply, that "the suddenness of Knight's move was in character for so feral a personality, for a genius who forever remained unfettered and insisted always on doing things his way."

Neatly said. But to get to the heart of the matter, which after all is as much about personality as principle, give a listen to Knight's old friend, former Bloomington Herald Times sports editor and Knight biographer Bob Hammel of Bloomington. Say what you want about the two men, their relationship has been one of utmost longtime loyalty and mutual admiration.

"We talked about it over the weekend," said Hammel, speaking of the Saturday and Sunday prior to Knight's surprise announcement Monday. "I was all for it. He hasn't been looking good. There is a tremendous health risk. Bob has unbelievably strong innards, but the stress (of coaching the game) on your body parts can be unbelievable.

"I retired at 60 myself," said Hammel, who left the news biz in 1996 and knows all about pressure and deadlines -- although he is in the midst of tamping down another book, a bio of Hoosier entrepreneur Bill Cook to be published in July by IU Press.

"I told Bob, 'When you get all this done, you're going to feel like an enormous load has been lifted off your shoulders.'"

Hammel said he urged Knight to call him back after he'd made his decision, which Knight did. "He said, 'God you called it.' I think he's feeling better already."

As for the suddenness of the announcement, Hammel said that's perfectly in character with Knight. He never wanted a showy farewell with speeches and fanfare, said Hammel.

Knight has no plans to return to Indiana, added Hammel -- Texas has plenty of room to hunt and fish -- although he will be in the Hoosier state April 18 for a talk in Brown County.

"There's a bitter taste here," added Hammel, speaking of Knight's firing as Indiana University coach in 2000 by then IU president Myles Brand.

As Hammel sees it, two people were responsible for Knight's Indiana exit. One was then-Star exec editor Tim Franklin, who saw pushing Knight's buttons in print as a way to further his own career. (I was in the newsroom when Franklin told Star investigative reporter Dick Walton to "cast a wider net" in an effort to get the goods on Knight. Is Franklin a good newspaperman? Yes, the best. Was there an agenda? You better believe it.)

The second person who wanted Knight's head was Brand. "Brand was trying to get a better job in the Ivy Leagues and he wanted to make an impression on them," said Hammel. "The only thing he didn't know, was that the Ivy Leagues may have been the only place in the world who had never heard of Bob Knight!"

Hammel was laughing as he made that last comment.

God knows, Bob Knight is not perfect. But many of us chose to see the better part. We admire his old-school insistence on discipline and the fact that he earned the respect and loyalty of his players over the years, and that he gave IU such an amazing run.

Good hunting!

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