A General Comes Homes
Knight Inducted into OSU Hall of Fame
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Robert Montgomery Knight finally traded in his crimson for scarlet on Friday night. It was a move he had been wanting to make since he left his alma mater over 50 years ago.
The long-time bad guy, and former head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, was officially inducted into the Ohio State Varsity ‘O’ Athletics Hall of Fame during a ceremony Friday evening at the Archie Griffin Ballroom in the Ohio Union.
“This is as special as anything that's ever been done on my behalf,” Knight said in a largely gracious, always entertaining appearance with the media prior to Friday’s event.
Knight was joined by former OSU All-American defensive back Ray Griffin, along with current defensive line coach Mike Vrabel and nine others in the class of 2012. He is a graduate of Ohio State and a former OSU basketball player under celebrated head coach Fred Taylor. But Knight was honored not for his contributions as a Buckeye, but instead for his legendary coaching career at Army, Indiana and eventually Texas Tech.
“I think this is something really unique,” said Knight, who became the first member of Ohio State’s Athletics Hall of Fame in the lifetime achievement category.
“I don't know if there is any other school in the country that would do this for someone who was a graduate.”
Especially someone as controversial as Knight.
He was the enemy for nearly 30 years as the fiery and contentious head coach in Bloomington. He won 11 Big Ten titles, an NIT title in 1979, an Olympic gold medal in 1984 and three NCAA Division I Championships as the face of the Hoosiers.
The 71-year old from Orrville, Ohio, never forgot, however, where he came from, calling this weekend’s hall of fame induction “as special an honor” as he has received in his entire career.
That comes from a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., and also the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, where he was inducted last year.
A big part of that is the passion he still has for the Ohio State University, but also the undying affection in his seemingly Grinch-sized heart for former head coach Fred Taylor.
“When I was coaching in the Big Ten, I didn't like losing. I didn't like losing here any more than anywhere else,” Knight said Friday.
“However, I didn't like winning here either. It was a hard thing, the hardest thing I ever had to deal with. I always lost when I came here when Coach Taylor was coaching. Now, after that, I didn't mind winning here. That didn't bother me nearly as much.”
Knight loved Ohio State, but not as much as he loved to win. Or, rather, hated to lose. The man nicknamed “The General” had won more basketball games than any Division I men’s coach in history until he was passed by one of his former players, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
He was 41-19 against the Buckeyes during his coaching career, which was one reason Ohio State fans came to resent Knight and his antics, at least until current OSU head coach Thad Matta took the job back in 2004.
Knight had reportedly been a candidate to return to his alma mater, but then-Ohio State Athletic Director Andy Geiger settled on Matta instead – a bright up-and-coming coach from Hoopston, Ill. who used to watch Knight’s Hoosiers from the stands at Assembly Hall with his dad, Jim.
This wasn’t the first time Knight was passed over for the job in Columbus. When Taylor retired in 1976, after a 6-20 season and a 10th place finish in the Big Ten, the powers that be at Ohio State met to discuss the possibility of bringing The General home.
It was soon after that Knight received a phone call from Ohio State’s most iconic coach.
“The football coaches voted unanimously for you coming here,” Woody Hayes told Knight back in ’76.
It was only two years before Hayes would be fired for something eerily similar to the incident that would eventually cost Knight his job at Indiana. After quarterback Art Schlichter threw a interception in the final moments of the Gator Bowl, Hayes struck Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman as he ran off the field with the ball in his hands.
Twenty-two years later, in March of 2000, Knight would be accused of choking former IU player Neil Reed during a 1997 practice. He was forced to resign that September, after another incident involving a student.
Asked if he would have accepted a similar invitation from Indiana as the one he was bestowed Friday from Ohio State, Knight quickly responded, “Probably no.”
He also made sure he was wearing a scarlet sweater, and not crimson, on Friday night over his gray button down when he took the podium at the awards ceremony in Columbus.
“As a graduate, I will always feel indebted to having that opportunity to go to school at Ohio State,” he said, as his voice began to crack.
“Those of us with an athletic experience have even great thanks for what we have been able to do and what has stuck with our lives since graduating from the greatest university in the country. There’s nothing in our lives, other than our own families, that we can be prouder of than the fact we are Buckeyes.”
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