Knight stinks, as a fish or as a shill

Mar 19 2013 - 11:26pm


My grandmother used to have an expression that always made me laugh.

If she deemed you to be rude, mean or untrustworthy in any way; stumbling, bumbling, fumbling or otherwise obnoxious, she'd probably call you a "poor fish."

A poor fish as in, "Oh that Terry Bradshaw, he's a poor fish!" (NOTE: Grandma loved Roger Staubach and the Dallas Cowboys; she couldn't stand Terry Bradshaw and the his Pittsburgh Steelers.) It's funny how these little family colloquialisms shape not only how you speak, but how you respond to the world.

The other day I was watching a sporting event on TV -- go figure, right? -- and suddenly former Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight appeared in a commercial.

I could practically hear my grandmother's voice in my head as I said to myself, "Now there's a poor fish."

Well known for his terrible temper and boorish behavior, Knight once threw a fit at a referee, got booted from the game and punctuated the evening by tossing a chair across the court.

It made all the highlight shows and was rather shocking at the time. Over the years, however, it's become something of a joke -- a punchline.

It's still silly, in a pop culture sort of way, and yet it remains incredibly embarrassing.

Anyway, with college basketball on center stage these days I saw Knight and former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps doing a TV spot for a national restaurant chain. The bit hinges on Knight's famous temper and at one point he says to Phelps, "That's not how you throw a chair."

Ha! I get it. Knight once threw a chair in a fit of rage in front of thousands of fans and millions more on TV. He completely lost control, embarrassed himself, his school and his basketball program.

The really great part is that wasn't just an isolated incident. Knight was also known to have choked one of his players, "kidded" a female news reporter about rape and was ultimately fired from his post at Indiana after getting physical with a 19-year-old IU student.

It's all so hilarious.

Or it's just sad.

Look, I get it. Knight was a brilliant tactician who had a great mind for Xs and Os. He won titles at Indiana and apparently did a lot for people behind the scenes.

And yet he was (and perhaps still is) also a blustering, boisterous bully who threw temper tantrums to get his way.

Most of us outgrew that stuff at 2 or 3 years old. Knight not only used it throughout his coaching career, he's still capitalizing on it years after getting fired because of it.

I was in Boise in 1995, covering the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament, when Knight verbally abused press conference moderator Rance Pugmire in front of a large group of reporters.

It was an awkward, ugly moment.

Knight's behavior wasn't about misplaced passion or intensity or his high expectations of the people around him, as his defenders have often replied.

No, it was about being a bully. It was about throwing a fit like a petulant child and doing so in front of a crowd of people.

Much has been made over the years about Knight's relationship with the media, which was always strained at best.

He once said the job of sports writer is, "one or two steps above prostitution."

I suppose in some ways he's right about that. Then again, I suppose in those same small ways I'm correct when I write that the job of coach is one or two steps above slave boss.

But let's not split hairs here. Don't for a second think my opinion about Knight has anything to do with him being a jerk to reporters like me over the years.

Rather, I find it fascinating that in our modern society, where there's a push to eliminate most forms of bullying, Bob Knight and the companies he shills for keep making money off his history of unacceptable behavior.

Or, as grandma might say, "It's amazing that poor fish keeps finding work."

Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner's sports columnist. He also covers the Utah Jazz and the NBA. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at He tweets at


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