Bob Knight a Florida Gator? In a previous era, it nearly happened

When UF had a vacancy in 1966, Knight was the top choice of then-athletic director Ray Graves.
Six years before becoming Indiana's head basketball coach in 1972, Bob Knight nearly took the same job at the University of Florida.
Six years before becoming Indiana's head basketball coach in 1972, Bob Knight nearly took the same job at the University of Florida. [ LM OTERO | ASSOCIATED PRESS ]
Published Nov. 2|Updated Nov. 2

Since news broke of Bobby Knight’s death Wednesday at age 83, the career trajectory and complicated legacy of one of American sports’ most successful coaches has been documented and deliberated at length.

But who knows how that epilogue might look had Knight taken a different career path more than a half-century ago.

Before the chair throwing and the championships, before asserting himself as one of college basketball’s foremost teachers and combustible figures, Knight nearly became the coach at Florida.

Just before a speaking engagement in Gainesville in 2000, while between coaching stints at Indiana and Texas Tech, Knight acknowledged as much to reporters in an O’Connell Center interview area.

It was May 1966, and the 25-year-old Knight, who had been the coach at West Point for one season, was the top choice of then-UF athletic director Ray Graves to succeed Norm Sloan (who ultimately had two stints in Gainesville) as the Gators’ coach. Deemed a rising star in the profession, Knight had just guided Army to an 18-8 record and a fourth-place finish in the National Invitation Tournament.

“I told the people (at West Point) on a Thursday night that I was going to go to Florida, but then I sat up all night,” Knight said.

“I went in the next morning, and my thinking was this: Army had hired me, they had given me a chance to be a head coach in college without ever having been a head coach. And it would be a real disservice to them if I were to leave in a year. I think maybe my biggest regret in coaching to this point is not feeling that I could come down here (to Florida) at that time.”

The Gators instead hired Tommy Bartlett, who went 95-85 with one NIT berth in seven seasons. Knight coached Army six more seasons, amassing a 102-50 record and leading the Cadets to four total NIT appearances before being hired at Indiana, where he won 662 games, 11 Big Ten championships and three national titles.

Florida didn’t reach its first NCAA Tournament until 1987, during Sloan’s second stint as coach.

“Every time I watched (Knight) win a national championship, I thought, ‘Gosh darn it, he could’ve been my basketball coach,’ " Graves, retired and living in Tampa, said in 2000.

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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