Gene Keady, Bob Knight
Legendary college coaches Gene Keady (left) and Bob Knight (right) are the Hickory Honorees for Feb. 8.
Getty Images

Keady, Knight Unite for Hickory Appearance

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

They are like former gladiators now, whiling away the peaceful days of their retirements with the time and perspective to reminisce about their heated battles as often and for as long as they desire.

But it so happens they don't desire.

Gene Keady and Bob Knight coached against one another 41 times in their respective careers at Purdue and Indiana, co-authoring a chapter in the annals of Hoosier Hysteria unlikely to be equaled for its passion, drama, excellence, and temporary insanity. Both coaches won big, ranking first (Knight) and second (Keady) in career Big Ten victories when they finished, and they set off a lot of fireworks in the process.

"It was wild times, wasn't it?" Keady says with a hearty laugh.

It was indeed.

They could, if they were so inclined, talk about the donkey or the heaved chair or the shrieking whistles that signaled technical fouls or all the games that so demanded the attention of the state's basketball-loving fanbase when they get together on their phones, Keady from Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Knight from Bloomington. But, no. They don't then and they won't on Saturday when they are honored in the next Hickory Night game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse when the Pacers play New Orleans.

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What do they talk about, then, when they talk every two or three weeks, usually at Keady's initiative?

"We just talk about stuff," Keady says. "Politics, things like that. He's pretty intelligent, so he's fun to talk to."

Keady and Knight coached against one another for the first time on Feb. 1, 1981 and for the last time on Feb. 29, 2000. Keady's Purdue teams won 21 times, while Knight's IU teams won 20. It was that evenly matched.

Keady's teams won six Big Ten championships during his 25 seasons at Purdue, including three in a row from 1994-96. He was voted the conference's Coach of the Year seven times and is a member of the national college and junior college halls of fame as well as the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.

Knight's teams won 11 Big Ten titles in his 29 seasons at IU, not to mention three national championships. He was voted conference Coach of the Year eight times and is a member of the national college and Naismith halls of fame.

Their teams usually played the toughest defense and most disciplined offense in the conference, sometimes making more free throws in a season than other teams attempted because of their shot selection. They rode their players hard in practice and rode the referees hard in games. They were different personalities, certainly, but always seemed to be aiming for the same way to win a game.

No wonder, then, sparks tended to fly when their teams squared off. Here are five of the most notable games in the series.

Jan. 31, 1981

Their first encounter in Assembly Hall was the wildest of all, setting the mood for the 40 to follow.

Knight was called for a technical foul in the first minute when Purdue led 2-0 because he thought a couple of traveling violations had been missed. Moments later, with the game still less than two minutes old, he stood up and grabbed referee Phil Bova by the belt and yanked him backward to afford himself a better view of the action. Bova nearly lost his footing but did not call a technical foul. That brought an enraged Keady onto the court, screaming a protest — which promptly earned him a technical foul. Two, in fact.

The game, which IU won 69-61, quickly deteriorated into an alley fight that featured 53 called fouls and 62 free throw attempts.

Keady was still steaming when he entered the media room for the postgame press conference.

"You guys don't know me very well yet, but I'm not going to put up with that --------!" he shouted as soon as he hit the doorway in the back of the room.

Keady said he had the highest respect for Knight and that Knight had explained to him at halftime why he grabbed Bova's belt, but that didn't settle Keady's mood.

"I'm not gonna let anybody intimidate me," he said. "I don't care if I'm fighting 100,000 people, I'll fight their --- until the world falls in. Nobody is going to intimidate me or my players and it's not right when an official lets it happen, and that's why I got hot. It is ridiculous that they didn't have enough courage to set (Knight) down. A rule is a rule, whether it's me or him."

Knight, for his part said, "All I was trying to do was to see what was going on. That's probably the 50th time since I've been here that I've grabbed an official and moved him out of the way. Maybe other coaches have better vision than I have."

But the final buzzer couldn't contain the game's controversies. Purdue guard Roosevelt Barnes, who would go on to play in the NFL, had a scar on his face when reporters talked with him outside Purdue's locker room. Asked about it, he responded, "Isiah (Thomas) sucker-punched me."

That set in motion events leading to an even wilder moment.

Feb. 6, 1981

Although video replays clearly showed Thomas had in fact snuck a swipe at Barnes, Knight vehemently fought back on his weekly television show by showing instances in the game when Thomas was subjected to physical play. Thomas' "sucker-punch," it appears was mere retaliation.

That only amped up emotions for the rematch in West Lafayette the following Saturday, a mere seven days later. It turned out to be calmer than the first, all things considered, but still would be considered outlandish by today's standards of decorum.

Barnes, entering the game in the first half to a loud ovation from the Purdue fans in Mackey Arena, was quickly called for a foul for bodying up Thomas on defense. That inspired a loud protest from Keady, which inspired a technical foul from one of the referees.

Purdue won the game, 68-66, on two free throws by Kevin Stallings with five seconds left. Indiana's attempt to tie the game failed when Thomas was called for a double-dribbling violation while racing upcourt to pass the ball to Ted Kitchel. Knight was so angry he chased referee Verl Sell off the court at the conclusion of the game, screaming in his ear.

Barnes had added more drama in the second half when he was hit with a technical for falling dramatically to the floor after he was charged with his fifth and final foul.

Barnes — who became a sports agent after his NFL career as well as the legal guardian for Purdue star Caleb Swanigan — said afterward he thought the referees had protected Thomas, adding that Thomas had flashed an obscene gesture his way during the game.

"I don't know why," Barnes said afterward. "I like the guy, really."

The aftershocks of the incidents between Barnes and Thomas spilled over into the next month. Knight's blunt protests of the physical play against Thomas incensed Purdue fans when he called it an example of "Purdue mentality," giving birth to a catchphrase that continues today. That set off a war of words with Purdue officials, climaxing when Knight taped his weekly television show for March 8, the day after IU clinched the Big Ten championship.

Knight told host Chuck Marlowe he had invited Purdue athletic director George King to give his side of the dispute, and that King had declined. So, Knight said, he found another university spokesman — at which point the cameras panned to show a donkey standing in the studio wearing a Purdue hat. Knight had named the donkey Jack.

Another legend was born. T-shirts and hats were printed bearing Jack's likeness and sold to IU fans throughout the state. King, meanwhile, filed a protest with the Big Ten office but the issue gradually faded into history with nothing more than reprimands.

Keady insists today he was never angry at Knight over the stunt.

"George King and those people at Purdue hated Knight, but I always liked him because I knew him (when Keady was an assistant coach) at Arkansas," Keady says. "He was full of piss and vinegar."

Bob Knight, Gene Keady

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Feb. 23, 1985

Indiana went on to win the NCAA championship in 1981, but the rivalry only intensified as Keady built his program. Purdue shared the Big Ten title with Illinois in 1984, splitting with IU in the process, and then defeated IU twice in the 1984-85 season.

The second game will live forever in college basketball lore, the ultimate example of Knight's P and V. Five minutes into the game a loose ball resulted in a foul call on IU's Marty Simmons. Knight thought a jump ball should have been the ruling and protested loudly enough to earn a technical foul. Moments later, with Purdue guard Steve Reid standing alone at the foul line preparing to shoot the technical free throws, Knight calmly picked up his red plastic chair and flung it across the court in front of Reid to the opposite corner.

Knight was hit with two more technicals and ejected from the game. Purdue went on to win, 72-63, within an increasingly ugly atmosphere at Assembly Hall. One fan threw a coin that ricocheted and hit Keady's wife, Pat, in an eye. She left the building wearing a black patch over it.

Keady didn't comment on Knight's ejection afterward, simply reminding reporters that the story of the day was that Purdue had won the game. Knight issued a formal apology the next day and was later suspended for one game and given two years' probation.

He got a lot of mileage out of the chair toss, though, joking that he had seen an elderly lady across the court who needed a seat and was simply trying to accommodate her.

Feb. 26, 1987

If one were forced to pick one game as the standout of the rivalry between the schools while Keady and Knight were both coaching, this probably would be it. Never again would both teams be ranked so high at the same time. Never again would they be so evenly matched. Never again would they be so balanced.

The game would be cleanly played, too. Not a flying chair or hatted donkey in sight, not even a technical foul.

Purdue was ranked sixth in the nation and IU third when they met at Mackey Arena. IU had won by 11 points in the earlier meeting in Bloomington as a flu-ridden Steve Alford scored 31 points. With Purdue trailing IU by 1 1/2 games in the conference standings, emotions were sure to run high.

A Lafayette radio station tried to get into the act by urging Purdue fans to wear a black and gold sweater to the game and to roll it up over their stomachs, as Knight was in the habit of doing with his red sweater at the time.

Purdue forward Todd Mitchell declared the winner of the game would win the Big Ten. IU center Dean Garrett went a step further — a step too far, perhaps — by declaring Purdue didn't want the game as badly as IU did.

A printout of that quote was blown up and tacked to the bulletin board in Purdue's locker room, but the players likely didn't need added hype. The national rankings and Big Ten standings provided everyone all the incentive they could want.

All 10 starters in the game were averaging 10 points or more, a remarkable display of balance for programs that emphasized defense and shot selection — and in the dawning era of the 3-point shot, when teams shot them far less frequently than today.

There was more than balance, though. There was abundant talent. Four of Purdue's starters — Doug Lee, Todd Mitchell, Mel McCants, and Everette Stephens — would go on to play briefly in the NBA. The fifth, Troy Lewis, was a former Indiana Mr. Basketball and two-time first-team all-Big Ten selection who played in the Continental Basketball Association. Four of IU's starters also got at least a whiff of an NBA career: Dean Garrett, Steve Alford, Ricky Calloway, and Keith Smart. The fifth, Daryl Thomas, played 13 professional seasons overseas.

They were two outstanding teams, for sure, and the result that followed seemed appropriate and nearly inevitable. Purdue, wearing its "big game" gold uniforms, won by 11 points, the perfect bookend to the season's series given IU's 11-point win in Bloomington a few weeks earlier.

They also wound up with identical records at season's end, 24-4 overall and 15-3 in the conference. What wasn't identical was their NCAA tournament fate. Indiana was seeded first, began tournament play in Indianapolis and went on to win the national championship. Purdue, which lost at Michigan by 36 points in its final conference game to drop back into the tie with IU, was stuck with a three seed and sent to Syracuse, where it lost to Florida in the second round.

Feb. 29, 2000

Nobody knew it at the time, but this turned out to be the last game Knight coached in Assembly Hall. It was appropriate, then, that it came against Keady's team.

Purdue entered with a 12-3 Big Ten record and riding an eight-game winning streak, while IU was 9-5. But the Hoosiers dominated from the start, jumping to an 11-0 lead and leading by as many as 20 points in the first half before ultimately winning by 14.

The Indianapolis Star's coverage of the game included no quotes from Knight, who was mired in controversies that contributed to his dismissal the following September. He apparently didn't speak with the media afterward, capping off an evening that provided an anticlimactic ending to his matchups with Keady.

The game didn't matter much in the long run, anyway. Purdue recovered to win three games in the NCAA tournament before losing by four points in its Elite Eight matchup with Wisconsin. Indiana, which lost its final regular season game at Wisconsin, later lost to Pepperdine by 20 points in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The era of their coaching rivalry, then, had come in like a lion and gone out like a lamb.

Keady doesn't hold many specific memories of his two decades spent coaching against Knight, which included one meeting outside the regular season — a Purdue victory in the Big Ten tournament in 1998. Looking back on it, 20 years after their final confrontation, he wonders what all the hoopla was about. The best thing about beating Indiana, he says, was that it made the Purdue alums he met in the offseason golf outings happy. But these days, whenever someone asks him who his toughest opponent had been, he has a stock answer: "Whoever we played next."

They didn't always play Indiana next, of course. Knight, though, was never far from his thoughts.

"He made me a better coach," Keady says. "You had to have your team well-prepared and execute or you would get your butts kicked. And sometimes you did get your butts kicked."


Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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