The sustained success of the Seahawks under Pete Carroll, pickled with entertaining personalities, has been so compelling that it is hard for many to remember that the Seahawks of an earlier time were just as cool, despite a coach who got away with saying in public, “Football players make football plays.”
Chuck Knox was so bedrock earnest when he said it, there was simply no argument. Or alternative. Or snickering. Or change of subject. The listener had to either accept the epic triteness or be burnt to a crisp by Knox’s baby-blues stare.
But Knox was no one’s fool. He was brilliant. As a football tactician, as a motivator of people and as a manager of his circumstances.
His deployment of aphorisms, bromides and cliches was his way of controlling media, fans and many players. Besides the fact that all of his sayings were true — the very definition of cliche — he offered them with such conviction, backed by success, that most listeners accepted them as some sort of divine providence, and shared them with others.
The only problem was, none of us had the strength of his character, so listeners started stepping backward, and looking sideways for doors.
Since the Seattle era of Knox, who died Sunday at 86 in Palm Springs, CA., from complications of dementia, was from 1983 to 1991 — when people believed that Amazon was a river in South America — there’s a few things worth sharing about the man from Sewickley, PA., who is the only one in history to be NFL coach of the year with three franchises (including the Bills and LA Rams).
He took the Seahawks to their first playoffs in 1983, 1984 and 1985, including a 27-20 shocker over the Dolphins in Miami’s Orange Bowl, where they were eight-point underdogs. In 1986, despite winning 10 games, the Seahawks didn’t make the playoffs, but did beat the teams that played in the Super Bowl, the Broncos and the Giants.
He could play his semi-immortal Ground Chuck offense behind RB Curt Warner, or he could adapt to the air, as he did in 1989 when he helped pull 3,309 passing yards from QB Dave Krieg, a mutt from defunct Milton College who lasted 19 years in the NFL.
It took the longest time for the Seahawks to recover from his 1991 departure, a resignation forced by the blithering ignorance of owner Ken Behring, who bought the team from the Nordstrom family in 1988.
From the Seahawks’ playoff appearance following the 1988 season, they did not return to the postseason until 1999, and did not win another playoff game until 2005.
Knox’s success came from a directive as simple as it was profound:
Expect nothing. Blame nobody. Do something.
Perhaps the ultimate embodiment of that directive came the year after that win in Miami. In the 1984 wild-card round against a formidable Raiders team led by madman DE Lyle Alzado, Knox had to scramble when tackle Ron Essink, likeliest to draw the assignment of blocking the ‘roided-up Alzado, curiously called in sick the morning of the game.
Knox threw away the game plan.
“His backup, Sid Abramowitz, was a nice person, but not much of a football player,” Knox said. Behind running backs Dan Doornink, David Hughes and Eric Lane, the Seahawks rushed the ball 51 times for 205 yards and won, 13-7. Krieg completed four passes in 10 attempts for 70 yards, none to Steve Largent.
For people who suggest that Knox’s reliance on axioms signaled an absence of creativity, please recall that game and shut up.
Knox is most remembered by players for the genuineness of his warmth, even after occasionally being targeted for a profane tirade.
Embracing this man was a moment I have never forgotten. Coach Knox was a man made of stone & grit but had heart for the game & his players that defined what playing in the NFL was all about..it was my Honor to share the game you loved & thank you for being my COACH. @Seahawks pic.twitter.com/PjscjipWB5
— Brian Bosworth (@GotBoz44) May 13, 2018
My last encounter with Knox was in 2005, a teleconference at the Super Bowl in Jacksonville. As a teenager, he made 83 cents an hour working the 900-degree pots of molten steel in Pennsylvania plants, the son of a steelworker father and a mother who painted houses.
The subject of the phone call was his donation of $1 million to endow a history chair at his alma mater, little Juniata College of Huntingdon, Pa. Knox had planned to be a history teacher, and fulfilled a part of that ambition by funding others for decades to teach his academic passion. Considering that he retired before pro coaching money grew huge, his investment in Juniata was considerable.
“I still have some small change left,” he said, laughing. “I’ve been donating every year and helped them with their football stadium, just 3,000 seats.
“I’ve always been grateful to Juniata.”
Seattle, the Seahawks and the rest of NFL and the sports world at large are grateful that Juniata enraptured us with a man who told us football players make football plays. Who knew?
Our statement on the passing of Chuck Knox. pic.twitter.com/npXULySvTG
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) May 13, 2018