Remembering Chuck Knox

KnoxA few days ago, when talking about his goal to revive Seattle’s running game this year, Pete Carroll made a reference to another legendary Seahawk coach when he said, “It isn’t like three yards and a cloud of dust. It ain’t Ground Chuck.”

As it turned out, it was a timely reference to Chuck Knox, who died today at age 86. Knox was an old-school football man who used the running game to become the first coach to lead the Seahawks to the playoffs.

Knox immediately turned the Hawks into contenders when he arrived in 1983, took them to the playoffs four times in nine seasons and ranks second in wins (80) behind Mike Holmgren (86) and just ahead of Carroll (79). Knox, who also coached the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams, ranks 10th in wins (186) among coaches in NFL history.

Knox was a stoic coach from an era when toughness was measured very differently than it is now. He was known for his Knoxisms, simple bromides that reflected his basic approach to the game.

His most famous perhaps was the self-obvious: “Football players make football plays.”

Others:
**Bring your hard hat and lunch bucket.
**Play the hand your dealt.
**When a man hits the ground, a man gets up.
**Don’t tell me how rough the water is. Just bring the boat in.
**Don’t piss in my face and tell me it’s raining.
**The six Ps: Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance.
**Practice does not make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.
**Complain about nothin’. Do somethin’!
**Five plays decide the game. Who’s going to get those five plays?

In tribute to one of Seattle’s great coaches and characters, here are some excerpts from “Then Zorn Said to Largent,” the book we co-authored with former Seahawks Paul Moyer and Dave Wyman 10 years ago:

Wyman used to marvel how the second Chuck walked into a room it would get quiet. How do establish that? You have to be someone people both fear and respect.

He would tell a story about a player, and you would be convinced he was talking about you. He would never say the guy’s name. But he would say something like, “Some scared cat didn’t come up and make that tackle.” And every time about 10 guys in the room would think, “Ah shit, he’s talking about me.”

When he was across the field, he was like the Mona Lisa or those holograms at the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland: Wherever you were standing, it looked like he was looking right at you.

We’d be stretching with 50 guys across the field, Chuck would be standing there with his cap pulled down over his eyes, and you still would swear he was looking right at you.

Why was Chuck such a great coach? Was it X’s and O’s? Partly. Chuck really knew personnel very well. Ground Chuck threw the ball a whole lot for a guy who wanted to run it.

But he could come into our defensive meetings, and he’d subtly point out things we should do: “Hey now, we don’t want Terry Taylor on an island against Art Monk. We’re going to have a safety over there, right?” And we’d say, “Absolutely, Coach.” Then he would leave, and we’d say to each other, “OK, let’s make sure we shift our safeties over a little bit.”

He would say, “I want playmakers. I never want to take that away from you. But if you don’t make the play or do the assignment, you’re wrong.”

He had a message he would send in the form of a pop-quiz question: “There are two guys running deep down the field. You’re the only defender. Which one do you cover?” Answer: “The one they throw the ball to.” His point was: “Make the right decision and just make the play.”

Chuck used to love going down to Los Angeles because all of the movie stars would come out. We’d be down in Century City, and that was his time to shine. They loved Chuck, who had coached the Los Angeles Rams before he came to Seattle.

When he was down in L.A., that was his scene. He was very comfortable hobnobbing with the celebrities because he fit right in. He was a Sinatra type of guy the way he walked around and carried himself.

He never talked about money, but image was important. He’d wear his gold Rolex and gold chain, he had that big diamond ring that said “CK” on it, and he always had his nails manicured. He used to wear the Bill Cosby sweaters and all of the stylish stuff. He dressed to impress and command respect.

It was all about image. Chuck was very orchestrated in everything he did. Impressions were important.

He used to say it’s important the head coach makes as much as the highest-paid player because it reflected the hierarchy. You’ve got to have that respect. So he was always up there as high as our top-paid players. When he left, he was probably making a million dollars a year, which was near the top of the league.

He also used to say, “When you go out at night, leave a good tip. Otherwise, people around town are going to say, ‘That guy is a cheap prick.’ ” And he would emphasize the P’s. CheaP Prick.

He was always talking about tipping people well and taking care of people. “Don’t give the team or the players a bad name.”

One of his favorite sayings when we had time off was, “Don’t throw the ball so far over the fence that you can’t go get it.” His point was that we should strive to be responsible, reputable citizens and role models. Reputation and perception were important to him.

After big wins, Chuck liked to take care of us. More than once, he pulled out his wallet or credit card and bought up all the beer in the place so we could celebrate.

In 1990, we beat Kansas City on the last play – one of the best wins in franchise history. On the way to the plane, a few of us filed into a little bar in the airport.

Chuck came walking into the bar looking very serious and stern. The place hushed, much like any time he walked into a meeting room. All of a sudden, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out three $100 bills and put them on the bar. And everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Soon the place was full of players and coaches, and we emptied the bar out.

In 1986, we rallied to beat New England in dramatic fashion. It was a long bus ride back to the airport, and Chuck had the bus pull over at a little convenience store in the middle of nowhere. He handed his credit card to some players and sent them into the store to buy beer for everyone. They just about emptied the place out then, too.

The same thing happened one time in Los Angeles. I can still see nose tackle Roy Hart carrying eight cases of beer back to the bus. The cases were stacked up to his nose as he waddled out with all of this beer Chuck had bought for us.

Chuck didn’t show much emotion and was hard to get to know, and he wouldn’t tolerate mistakes and people who didn’t do their jobs. But he also wasn’t afraid to show his appreciation when they did.

There were a lot of reasons to respect Chuck Knox.

Knox knew 1991 was going to be his final season in Seattle. As Moyer told it:

We were in the war room when they picked Dan McGwire in the first round in 1991, and it was the first time I ever saw Chuck Knox look defeated. The coaching staff did not want to draft Dan with that pick. They had other quarterbacks, such as Browning Nagle and Brett Favre, rated higher.

We ended up drafting McGwire, and Chuck didn’t go down to the media room to announce the pick, as he usually did. He let owner Ken Behring and team president Tom Flores do it.

Meanwhile, Chuck motioned for all of the coaches to follow him to our meeting room. And he told us, “Boys, coach your asses off this year because this is the beginning of the end.”

 

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