The post I am linking is almost two weeks old, but given the summer doldrums it seems as topical as anything else. Inside the Hall recently highlighted a Twitter post by Tom Crean that said: "We want EVERY FORMER COACH, PLAYER AND MANAGER BACK EVENTUALLY." (All-caps in the original). At least superficially, this post might have been related to Lou Watson's recent return to Assembly Hall. Watson, for those who don't know, was an all-American player at IU and a longtime assistant to legendary IU coach Branch McCracken. Watson succeeded McCracken as head coach in 1965 and was forced out in 1971, when Bob Knight replaced him. Watson remained friendly with the IU program, but hadn't been back to Assembly Hall since Knight was fired in 2000.
Nevertheless, it's understandable that Crean's statement provoked discussion about when, if, and how Bob Knight might ever again appear in Assembly Hall. The ITH post led to an interesting discussion thread, with responses ranging from hopeful pessimism to optimism to indifference to outright opposition. One poster questioned whether it was realistic to expect IU or any other institution to honor a coach that it had fired. Unquestionably, the circumstances of Knight's departure substantially complicate any possible return, but there is precedent, and we need not look too far to find it.
Over the years, many writers have drawn the comparison between Knight and legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes. There is more than a superficial similarity. Knight is a native Ohioan and played basketball at Ohio State when Hayes was the football coach there. Hayes, again for those who don't know, was coach at Ohio State from 1951-1978 and won 13 Big Ten titles and either three or five national championships, depending on who is counting. His career came to an end in 1978, when Hayes, at the end of a Gator Bowl loss to Clemson, punched a Clemson player who had just made a game-ending interception. Hayes was fired the next day. Nevertheless, however bitter he might have been, that did not end the relationship between Hayes and OSU.
I don't know the details of Hayes's reconciliation with Ohio State, but it must have been within five years of "the Punch." Here's a video of Hayes in 1983, becoming one of the few who have had the honor of dotting the "i" at the end of the Script Ohio:
Hayes died in 1987, and a few months after his death, OSU's new multipurpose athletic center was named the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. A posthumous gift by Hayes to OSU resulted in an endowed chair in Hayes's name. Whatever he thought about the decision to fire him, Hayes reconciled within a few years.
In the Billy Reed article linked above, Knight rejected the notion that his career would end with a "Woody Hayes moment." Reed contends that Knight avoided such a fate. I don't agree. Knight broke Dean Smith's record at and retired from Texas Tech, not IU, the school where he became a legend. The premature end of Knight's tenure at IU resulted from a combination from a downturn in results and Knight's explosive temper, but both were necessary ingredients in his demise.
Still, hopefully Knight can follow the lead Hayes and allow IU to mend fences. IU is two presidents removed from the tenure of Myles Brand and four athletic directors removed from Clarence Doninger. Only one current member of the IU Board of Trustees, Steve Ferguson, was on the board in 2000, and Ferguson recused himself from the discussions because he had been Knight's attorney. Mike Davis, the assistant who Knight considered disloyal (unfairly) and not up to the job (fairly) is long gone and is running another program into the ground. The crook with whom Knight butted heads in the Big 12 is gone as well. Knight is his own man, and is entitled to decide whether to return to IU to be honored. While I would like to see it, I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. But can any IU fan watch the video of Hayes dotting the "i" and fail to think that Knight, both for himself and for us, should have a comparable moment at midcourt of Assembly Hall?
Tom Crean will be judged by the quality of the teams that he puts on the court, but it would be a feather in his cap to bring Knight back to IU.