Twenty-two years ago my buddy Jason and I sneaked off our conservative Christian college campus and broke curfew to go sit in the bar at the Sheraton Inn down the road. Why would two Bible college students risk reprimand and possible expulsion? To meet Bobby Knight, of course.
Someone told us that the Hoosiers stayed at the Sheraton when they were in town to play Michigan State's Spartans, and we wanted a chance to meet the man all us Hoosier boys simply called, "Coach." The team was in a meeting for most of the evening and, by the time they got out we were nearly drifting off in sleep. We looked up just in time to see coach disappearing into an elevator. Disappointed that we missed him, I left a note for Coach at the front desk asking for an autograph. Sure enough, the man who everyone said was a notorious hard case mailed me his signature the next day.
Growing up in Indiana, meant being immersed in the culture of crimson and cream (aside from a few miscreants who preferred the black and gold). Every basketball player I knew dreamed of wearing the red and white striped warm-up pants before sell out crowds at Assembly Hall. A trip to the barber shop meant seeing the new calendar that Indiana printed every year with head shots of each of the players and coaches. Every boy I knew dreamed of playing for Coach. His tantrums were legendary. He would strip the hide off his best player if he missed a back screen, or if he was careless with the ball. It wasn't unusual for him to park his most productive scorer on the bench if they didn't hustle on defense.
Moms shook their heads when they watched Coach. Dads simply nodded their silent approval. I heard more than one say, "I wouldn't mind my boy playin' for him." Sure he was hard. Yes, he was tough, but by golly he graduated his players and paid attention to the rules. Oh, and he won national championships along the way, too.
When Coach got fired several years back for violating Myles Brands, "no tolerance policy" the namby-pambies got what they wanted. Coach was out. Foreigner Myles Brand was rewarded with a coronation to the throne of the NCAA, and Mike Davis, a talented but star-struck young coach inherited a team that made a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
The kinder, gentler Mike Davis lasted just long enough for Hoosiers to figure out he wasn't Coach. He was a nice guy. Like Knight, Davis gave a lot of money away, but unlike Coach, we couldn't get it done in the "W" column. Davis was out.
Better informed Hoosiers than this old boy wagged a knowing finger when Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson made the move to Bloomington. A rule breaker in the house that Bobby built? How could it be? Now it looks like Sampson is going to be canned for repeated recruiting violations - something that would never have occurred in the Knight years.
Two yeas ago I got to meet and visit with Hoosier legend Kent Benson. As part of the Hoosier's undefeated national championship team, Benson is a minor god in Indiana. When Kent Benson speaks about Indiana basketball, people listen. I'm told that Benson said recently that he would not attend another Indiana basketball game as long as Sampson is on the bench. Looks like he may be back at Assembly Hall pretty soon.
The two questions that occupy the minds of the Hoosier faithful this week are, with Sampson almost assuredly out, who will be directing traffic courtside? And, can the tarnish be wiped off a program with a pristine past?