Remembering Orrville native, coaching legend Bob Knight

Remembering Orrville native, coaching legend Bob Knight

During his long coaching career, Bob Knight was usually colorful, often controversial, and his teams won a lot of games, including three NCAA titles. The Orrville native died on Nov. 1 at the age of 83.


Few coaches in any sport have ever enjoyed success comparable to Bob Knight or made headlines as often for negative behavior.

The sports world has been remembering Knight and debating his complicated legacy since his passing at the age of 83 on Nov. 1. Knight had been hospitalized in April and struggled with dementia for several years.

In Orrville most of those who knew Knight will tell you, “The good far outweighs the bad.”

Knight, a 1958 Orrville High School graduate and player on Ohio State’s 1960 national championship team, ranks fifth on the all-time Division I men’s basketball coaching wins list. He had a 902-371 record over a combined 42 seasons at Army (1965-71), Indiana (1971-2000) and Texas Tech (2001-08).

The highlights of Knight’s career are winning three national titles at Indiana (1976, 1981, 1987) and coaching the 1984 U.S. Olympic basketball team led by Michael Jordan to the gold medal. At the time of his retirement, Knight ranked first in career wins, and he had become a pop culture phenomenon.

Nicknamed “The General,” Knight was an innovator who brought the motion offense to prominence and stressed man-to-man defense. His incredible coaching tree is led by Mike Krzyzewski, who he mentored at Army and then set the coaching wins record at Duke.

Knight ran a clean program free of any NCAA violations, championed academics, and donated time and money to countless worthy causes, which rarely made headlines.

Instead, Knight’s controversial actions throughout his career are what’s been replayed the most on TV and social media during his life and after his death. Knight could be stubborn or rude to a fault, and with his quick-trigger temper, he did some things even he admittedly regretted later, none more infamous than the “chair toss” against Purdue in 1985.

There’s no middle ground for most people who have followed Knight’s career — either they liked him or called him a jerk or bully.

Doug Davault, retired Orrville assistant principal and football coach, said most people in the town who actually knew Knight are extremely proud he’s an Orrville native.

“Bob Knight was bigger than life,” said Davault, whose late father Jerry Davault was friends with Knight from the time they played fastpitch softball in Orrville in the 1960s until Jerry’s death at age 89 in 2021. “When a guy like (Knight) goes, you just go ‘wow!’ That’s gonna leave a void no matter what you think of the guy.

“Unfortunately, his minor incidents, which were maybe 1% or 2% of who he was, are what get all the notoriety. People felt like they knew who he was, but he actually was very generous and gracious in taking care of people he knew and always very loyal to Orrville.”

Knight never forgot Orrville over the years, making countless trips back to visit. He kept tabs on current topics in town through close friends like the late Dr. Dick Rhoads and Jerry Davault.

When Knight heard the old gym needed new bleachers, he wrote a check for $100,000. He made donations to the library and donated his time as a guest speaker to raise money for organizations such as the Orrville Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, and Roy Bates Foundation.

It was a two-way street, with Knight also inviting Orrvillites out to Indiana or Texas Tech to watch his teams play.

Doug Davault told a story about going to Indiana University with his family to watch a couple of practices and a game and noticing an older gentleman who also was a special guest. It turned out the man had been a custodian at Cuyahoga Falls when Knight was an assistant coach there in 1962-63. After the man called Knight at the IU basketball office, he invited him to visit.

“That’s just the kind of guy Bob was,” Davault said. “He made the guy feel a part of everything and took him as part of a small group we were with to watch his TV and radio shows. I thought, ‘That’s the side of Knight people don’t see.’”

For all the honors Knight received including being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991, he said having the gym in Orrville’s new school named after him in 2013 was among the top highlights.

“I have always been very proud of having gone to school and then getting to play here,” Knight told a sellout crowd in the 1,250-seat gym. “I hope that some of the things that I have done over the years have been reflections of my having been brought up in one of the greatest towns in the United States.”

Growing up in Orrville

In the week prior to Knight breaking the all-time college coaching record for wins in 2006, I decided to write an article about his roots growing up in Orrville.

Talking to Knight for a 15-minute phone interview is still the highlight of my 30-year reporting career. I was fortunate to later meet him in person on several other occasions.

Knight told me for the 2006 story: “I could not have asked for a neater place to grow up in or people who were more in tune to kids.”

Among the adults who were big influences, Knight mentioned his parents Carroll (known as Pat) and Hazel, teacher Dave Knight (no relation), dentist Don Boop, and coaches Bill Shunkwiler and Jack Graham. Pat Knight worked for the railroad, and Hazel was a teacher.

Knight, who was 6-foot-5, excelled in football, basketball and baseball at Orrville High School.

Far-reaching interests beyond basketball included fishing, hunting, golfing and reading. He is survived by his wife Karen and sons Tim and Pat.

“When we went places in Indiana with Knight, everyone knew him and liked him,” Davault said. “He could have been the governor.”

Lasting legacy

Bob Knight was a larger-than-life personality. It’s doubtful there will ever be another coach like him.

Knight was successful and admired or feared and despised, depending on whom you talk to. All can agree he was a champion.

Longtime friend Doc Rhoads stressed one characteristic the most when I talked to him for the 2006 story.

“Bob’s a great teacher,” Rhoads said. “If you ask him what his job is, he would say, ‘I’m a teacher.’ His classroom is the basketball court.”

And the lessons on basketball and life all started in Orrville.

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