Coach Bobby Knight on Why He’s So Unpleasant

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By Ketrin Agustine

Your book, “The Power of Negative Thinking,” presents what could be considered an anti-Pollyanna vision of the world. I have to agree that eternally optimistic positive thinkers are incredibly annoying.
When I first started coaching, one of the worst things that I think I heard was “It will be O.K.” I would wonder, How the hell is it going to be O.K.? The worst word in the English language is “hope.”

Do you think you inherited this outlook from your family? I’m wondering if you were hugged a lot and told you could be president if you put your mind to it.
My dad was a very quiet person, and unbelievably tough. But my grandmother gave me my first look at negative thinking to bring about positive results. When I was just a little guy, anytime I came to my grandmother and said I wish for this or that, Grandma would say, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” I’m glad you asked me, because I don’t think they put this in the book. It’s supposed to be dedicated to my grandmother. Damn it — I’m going to call them.

I’m surprised to hear that your dad was quiet. I assumed he was very loud.
No, no, no, no. I don’t think my dad ever raised his voice to my mother or to me, ever.

Then where did the yelling come from?
A big part of teaching is being emphatic. Maybe I’m right or wrong, but part of my approach was that when I said something, the kids understood exactly what I meant and what I wanted.

For years at Indiana University, your team boasted the highest rate of graduation of any N.C.A.A. team.
All the years I coached, we sent a card to every professor for each kid I had, and I was able to keep track on a daily basis who cut class or who was dropping a grade average. What I did was bring that kid in at 5:00 in the morning, and he would run the stairs from the bottom to the top until I told him to quit. I did this with a lot of kids, but never twice.

Artie Limmer for The New York Times

You were not a fan of sportswriters, calling them “one or two steps above prostitution.” Later, the press seemed almost gleeful in reporting allegations that you verbally and physically abused players, which ultimately got you dismissed from Indiana in 2000. In retrospect, was it a mistake not to be friendlier to reporters? No, not at all. I enjoyed needling the press. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t have done it. Writers have rarely played, so as a coach you have antagonistic feelings about some guy writing up the story of the game who’s never even attempted to play it.

Whenever you’re written about, inevitably there are mentions of your throwing a chair across the court, and your conviction — in absentia — for assaulting a Puerto Rican police officer while you were coaching the 1979 Pan-American Games.
Those things were inconsequential to me, and what somebody wrote was inconsequential to me. It’s just something that I ignored.

But did you see this behavior as somehow integral to victory?
That’s my answer. Let’s go onto something else. I’m tired of this.

Myles Brand, the former Indiana University president who fired you, died in 2009. What did you think when you heard?
I didn’t like the guy. In fact, the first time I ever did anything with him, I said, “This guy will be a problem for a lot of people here.” I felt that way when he was alive, and I felt that way when he was dead — and never wasted any time on it.

Indiana’s current coach, Tom Crean, has been trying to get you back to Bloomington to have some sort of homecoming. I imagine you’d receive a hero’s welcome.
I don’t need a hero’s welcome. What do I need a hero’s welcome for? Obviously I don’t have any interest in going back, or I would have, it’s that simple.

Imagine you were allowed to edit your own obituary. Is there anything you’d choose to leave out?
Well, seeing as I won’t be able to, I would simply quote Clark Gable. Quite frankly, I just don’t give a damn.


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