Former IU coach Bob Knight developed a reputation through the years as a man who would do just about anything for his former players.
Mike Woodson didn’t need much from Knight in 1996 when he was offered his first full-time coaching position in the NBA.
But he did need his former college coach to come through for him — on very short notice.
Woodson was offered an assistant coaching role by new Milwaukee Bucks head coach Chris Ford in 1996. The late Ford discovered Woodson when he was coaching summer league squads in the early 90s.
But before Ford’s offer was official, Woodson had to have a meeting with a United States Senator.
“Senator (Herb) Kohl was the guy that owned the Bucks at the time, and Chris said ‘Hey Woody, Senator Kohl wants to have dinner with you,'” Woodson recalled on his radio show with host Don Fischer on Monday evening.
Indiana fans will recognize the Kohl name for another reason.
Around that same time, that same Herb Kohl donated $25 million to the University of Wisconsin for construction of its new sports arena, which was named the Kohl Center.
So, Kohl had plenty of money, but he didn’t have a connection to Knight. Perhaps the long-time Wisconsin donor just wanted to better understand what happened in 1968, and discuss what could have been.
Because in 1968, Knight accepted the Wisconsin head coaching job — until the day he was scheduled to head to Madison — and changed his mind.
Three years later, another Big Ten school came calling for Knight. And another 25 years after that, the wealthiest man in Milwaukee just wanted a call from Knight.
And he wanted to see if Woodson could make it happen.
“So I go in and have dinner (with Kohl), and the question comes up he says ‘do you know Coach (Bob) Knight?'” Woodson recalled. He was surprised at the question since he played for Knight for four years from 1976 to 1980.
“I looked at him and said ‘is this a joke question, are you serious?’ And he said ‘yeah, I need to know if you know Coach Knight,’ and I said ‘yeah I know Coach Knight.’
“He said ‘I tell you what, I’ve always been intrigued by Coach Knight, if you get Coach Knight to give me a call between now and tomorrow morning, you’ve got a job.'”
In retrospect, it was quite the tangled web of connections.
Bob Knight, who spurned Wisconsin at the last minute, had to call the Badgers’ top donor, whose name adorns the building where IU hasn’t won in 25 years, to help launch the career of the man who would eventually become the current Indiana basketball coach.
“So I got right on the horn and called Coach and I said ‘hey man, you’ve got to make this phone call for me,’ and he makes the phone call and the next morning I have the job as the assistant coach at Milwaukee,” Woodson said.
Knight made the call, Woodson got the job, and the Knight-Kohl connection got interesting after that.
Knight led IU to Madison for Wisconsin’s second-ever game at the Kohl Center on January 25, 1998 and beat the Badgers 69-59.
But Indiana has not won in Madison since. And Knight’s last regular season Big Ten game as Indiana head coach came two years later at the Kohl Center, a 56-53 loss in March, 2000.
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