For nearly 30 years he was Indiana University basketball. Yet for all his coaching excellence and national championships, Bob Knight is known as much for his legendary temper. Now, in court depositions, sworn pre-trial interviews, we hear for the first time from current IU head coach Mike Davis just how volatile Knight could be.
“He would go off at the drop of a hat...” Davis testified. “I mean, if we were sitting here now, and if you said something that he didn't like, he would go off, scream and yell, and curse at you... And if you say something he thought was wrong he would snap, so I never said much.”
The depositions are part of an assault lawsuit filed by Ronald Felling, an assistant coach fired by Knight in 1999. Felling claims minutes after he was fired Knight shoved him.
Davis was in the room when the incident allegedly happened. He says he didn't see the shove, but heard the noise, and saw Knight's son Pat jumping between Knight and Felling. Davis says Pat Knight confirmed his father pushed Felling. From the deposition:
Attorney: Did Pat ever indicate to you that his father had shoved or pushed Ron into the TV?
Attorney: And what did Pat say?
Davis: Coach lost his temper or something like that, and he pushed coach Felling.
IU and Davis sought to keep the depositions secret. Their attorneys argued making the depositions public would be an invasion of privacy; that reputations would be damaged. But after Eyewitness News intervened in the case, a federal judge rejected that argument.
We asked Davis about the case, but he declined to comment. “Can't say a word … Sorry. We'd love to talk to you. Yeah, can't say it.”
It's easy to see why IU, and Davis would want to keep the testimony secret.
Davis's testimony portrays Knight as a bully who flew off the handle if his assistant coaches disagreed with him, who sabotaged Davis' career aspirations by not recommending him for the head coaching job at Tulane and who tried to derail the IU basketball program with a campaign to steer players away from the school.
In the deposition Davis says, “... It's all hearsay. People I’ve recruited, he's called people around them for them not to come and play for me... I heard he convinced Kirk Haston to come out...”
Haston did forego his senior year to join the NBA, but insisted in numerous interviews that the decision was his alone.
In his deposition, Davis claims Knight grabbed players during practice. Davis names Charlie Miller and Mike Lewis as examples and says he viewed it as inappropriate.
Davis also says Pat Knight, now an assistant for his father at Texas Tech, has inherited the elder Knight's temper.
Davis saying, “at one game we had lost to Indiana State, and Pat was throwing chairs, and wanted to fight all the players.”
Davis says he and the other coaches weren't shy about criticizing Knight's handling of the basketball program among themselves and to others. “'We didn't feel like we was covering the overall scheme of the game.”
Attorney Do you think you were disloyal to the program?
Davis says the assistant coaches weren't always on their best behavior either. He recounts how Felling appeared drunk at one time and slapped player Luke Recker.
But when it comes to his lawsuit, Felling does have a witness, according to the depositions. IU assistant coach John Treloar says he saw Bob Knight shove Felling into a television.
Attorney: Do you recall Ron taking any physical stance or position that was threatening or that you interpreted as being threatening to Bob Knight?
Produced by Kathleen Johnston and Gerry Lanosga.
Deposition Highlights: Ronald Felling vs. Robert Knight
Bobby Knight, former IU basketball coach, fired in 2000.
Ronald Felling, former assistant coach, fired by Knight in 1999 after Knight overheard him making negative remarks about the basketball program. Suing Knight for assault, Felling alleges Knight punched him in the chest, knocking him backward into a television.
Mike Davis, current IU coach.
John Treloar, current IU assistant coach.
Bill Potter, attorney for Felling.
The Depositions: Testimony from Davis and Treloar taken October 23, 2001
Davis and Treloar agreed that Knight’s reputation for violent outbursts is deserved. In general, Davis’s testimony portrayed Knight as a bully who flew off the handle if his assistant coaches disagreed with him; who undermined Davis’s career aspirations; and who, after being fired, interferred with the IU basketball program by steering players away from the school (Davis testified that Knight’s son, Patrick, also participated in those efforts, including targeting a current recruit prospect whom Davis would not name).
Regarding the incident that prompted Felling’s lawsuit, both Davis and Treloar, who were in the room at the time portrayed Knight as the aggressor. Treloar said he witnessed Knight shoving Felling.
Highlights of Davis deposition
Highlights of Treloar deposition
Highlights of Davis deposition
Asked if he witnessed Knight engage in inappropriate physical contact, Davis replied that Knight would grab students such as Charlie Miller or Mike Lewis during practice sessions. Davis said he didn’t view that as an appropriate teaching tactic.
About Knight’s reputation for violent outbursts:
Potter: Based upon your own perceptions, in your opinion do you think that reputation is deserved?
About seeking the head coaching job at Tulane and asking Knight for help.
And he said I didn’t want that job, it was a bad job. I said I wanted it, because I’m from the south. And his response was, I don’t give a f--- what you think, you know, it’s a bad job.
You know other coaches around the country had told me that the AD had told (them) that he didn’t push me for the job.
On Knight’s general demeanor:
He would go off on a drop of a hat.... I mean, if we were sitting here now, and if you said something that he didn’t like, he would go off, scream and yell, and curse at you.
I mean, we was just sitting down there talking about basketball, and if you say something that he thought was wrong he would snap, so I never said much.
Recounted seeing Knight repeatedly berating assistant coach Craig Hartman, getting within an inch or two of Hartman’s face.
Potter: Was that done in an intimidating fashion?
Potter: And was it done in a manner to bully Craig?
Davis: In my opinion, yes.
Potter: Would you describe Coach Knight as a bully?
Davis recalled being in the room with other assistant coaches as Knight and Felling argued the day Felling was fired. He said he wasn’t watching to see Knight actually push Davis, but looked up to see Felling backed up against a TV with videotapes falling to the floor and Pat Knight jumping in between the two men. Davis said he has no reason to doubt that Knight shoved Felling. By Davis’s account, Felling had his hands in his pockets throughout the encounter and never did anything to physically threaten Knight.
"He (Knight) was all huffy, you know, like he was just, you know, he was getting ready to fight."
Potter: If in the circumstances you saw him treating Ron, verbally abusing Ron, and jumping up and coming at Ron as you described it, would that make you fear for your physical safety?
Davis said Pat Knight confirmed his father pushed Felling.
Potter: Did Pat ever indicate to you that his father had shoved or pushed Ron into the TV?
Potter: And what did Pat say?
Davis: Coach lost his temper or something like that, and he pushed Coach Felling.
Davis acknowledged that he and the other assistant coaches (including Felling) often criticized Knight’s handling of the IU basketball program, both among themselves and to outsiders.
We didn’t feel like we was covering the overall scheme of the game.
Potter: Do you think you were disloyal to the program?
Potter: Do you think the other coaches were disloyal too?
Davis: Well, I think we worked for a person, and, you know, I took his money, and I said some things in my last year that I was okay. I’m not going to stay here anymore because if you can’t work for someone, you know, and not saying anything, you feel you should not work for them, and I did that for three years.
Davis said even Pat Knight was critical of the program, but could get away with saying things to his father that the other coaches could not. Davis also recounted an incident in which an angry Pat Knight confronted the team after a loss:
Davis: At one game when we had lost to Indiana State, and Pat was throwing chairs, and wanted to fight all the players.
Potter: Where did this happen?
Davis: In the locker room.
Davis also recalled an incident involving Felling that he characterized as disloyal to IU basketball: "We was doing individual workouts one day, and he was at the football game he had been tailgating, and he was - he was drunk, and he slapped" Luke Recker. Davis gave no date or other details.
On the other hand, David testified, Felling’s disloyalty was not the exception: "You know, if he said it, I probably said it too, so it wasn’t like that he was the only one saying something."
Davis spoke about efforts by Knight and his son to hurt IU’s program after Knight’s firing:
Davis: It’s all hearsay. People I’ve recruited, he’s called people around them for them not to come and play for me. He had a walk-on that quit. I heard he met with the walk-on before the walk-on quit, told the people he quit, and then once he met with the coach, he came in here and said I kicked him off the team.
Potter: Was that here at IU?
Potter: Who was that?
Davis: Tom Carol.
Potter: And was that true?
Potter: What other instances of which you’re aware of where Coach Bob Knight has shown disloyalty to IU since you became the interim basketball coach?
Davis: I mean everything is what I hear. I heard he convinced Kurt Hastings to come out.
Davis also said he heard Pat Knight engaged in similar conduct:
Davis: He called a coach at his school and told his school that if they didn’t sign one of the kids that we were recruiting that he would never speak to them again.
Potter: What kid was that?
Davis: I can’t say the recruit’s name, but it’s one of the big recruits that I’m trying to sign.
Potter: One of the current ones?
Recalled a meeting at Knight’s home after the coach had been fired at which Knight offered to do anything he could do to help the assistant coaches (although Treloar said Knight never offered him a job elsewhere and never suggested he wanted him to leave IU).
Treloar: He said he would take care of us.
Potter: Did he say how he would take care of you?
Treloar: I don’t remember him saying specifically how he was going to take care of us. I remember him saying that he would take care of us.
Observed Knight’s outbursts in practice sessions, including yelling and physical pulling or shoving.
"Well, during practices if he didn’t like how things were being performed by the student athlete he would through his coaching have an outburst."
Treloar said the coaches sometimes did that to motivate the players.
"I didn’t perceive it as a physical bullying. I felt like it was his teaching method more of a mental than physical bullying, trying to get the mental result that he wanted.
Potter: In your opinion based upon your own perceptions of what you observed of Coach Bob Knight, do you think his reputation for violent outburst is deserved?
Treloar: Yes, I think so.
Treloar testified that Knight did shove Felling the day the assistant coach was fired, although he said he didn’t remember specifically if Knight yelled or cursed.
Potter: At any time in your opinion based upon any of your observations of Coach Knight in this meeting, did he physically intimidate Ron Felling?
Treloar: I would say yes.
Potter: At any time in the course of this meeting in the locker room, did you see Coach Knight shove or push Ron?
Potter: Tell me what you saw.
Treloar: At some point Coach Knight either got up from his sitting position or was standing during this meeting, and I don’t remember exactly. Either he was leaving the room or something, but Ron was pushed.
Potter: How did he push Ron, one hand, two hands?
Treloar: I’m not sure if it was one hand or two hands, or a shoulder, I don’t know.
Potter: When he pushed Ron what happened?
Treloar: Ron lost his balance and went against the television.
Potter: Coach Davis indicated that at the time of this incident, Ron Felling was standing there with his hands in his pocket; is that what you recall?
Treloar: I don’t recall him having his hands in his pocket.
Potter: Do you recall Ron taking any physical stance or position that was threatening, or that you interpreted as being threatening to Bob Knight?