Chuck Knox, who died Saturday at age 86, was the person who made the Seahawks relevant. It’s hard to remember now, when “12s” have Super Bowl parades and the disruptive cacophony of CenturyLink Field fresh in their minds, but it wasn’t always that way.
Chuck Knox once said that his favorite “Knox-ism” — the homespun philosophy by which he lived life and coached up football players — was this one: “Never overload your butt with your mouth.”
There was a Knox-ism corollary to this that brought it all home: “What you do speaks so well there’s no need to hear what you say.”
Knox was a man of action, but also one of passion and compassion. He was as tough as nails but also had a dry sense of humor that sneaked up on you. Knox was one of those people who commanded respect the moment he walked in a room, and whose presence remained long after he had left it.
Knox, who died Saturday at age 86, was quite simply the person who made the Seahawks relevant. It’s hard to remember now, when “12s” have a Super Bowl parade and the disruptive cacophony of CenturyLink Field fresh in their minds, but it wasn’t always that way.
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When Knox took over as head coach of the 7-year-old franchise in 1983, they were coming off three straight losing seasons. The expansion buzz was dimming, and the new-team smell wasn’t enough to sustain fan enthusiasm. They craved winning.
Knox gave it to them. He wouldn’t tolerate a culture that accepted losing. He brought in veterans like Reggie McKenzie, Charle Young and Blair Bush to help change the psychology, and led the Seahawks all the way to the AFC title game in his first year.
“When he came we were, I don’t want to say in disarray, but he brought a little more stability to the program,’’ former defensive lineman Joe Nash told Seattle Times columnist Steve Kelley in 2005 when Knox went into the Ring of Honor.
“He was the kind of coach who didn’t take any guff. He brought a new feeling when he came in and brought with him a group of veterans who’d won before. He shook things up. By bringing in those guys he raised the bar for all of us.”
The Seahawks would make the playoffs in three of the next five years and win their first division title in 1988. When he joined the Ring of Honor, every single one of the previous player honorees — Steve Largent, Dave Brown, Jim Zorn, Jacob Green, Curt Warner, Kenny Easley and Dave Krieg — had been coached by Knox.
And, oh, did his players revere Knox. When the Seahawks upset Dan Marino’s Miami Dolphins as 8-point underdogs in the 1983 playoffs — after their plane was delayed four hours in Seattle en route to Miami — Dave Brown gave Knox the game ball and players in the locker room chanted, “Chuck! Chuck! Chuck!” The tough guy who had worked in the mills of Western Pennsylvania wept unashamedly.
Hall of Famer Tom Mack, whom Knox coached with the Rams, called Knox the best coach he ever had, and Hall of Famer Largent felt the same way.
“Chuck had a million sayings and he didn’t spare any on us,’’ Largent told Kelley in 2005. “He was very much a motivator, but he was also a good thinker. The Seahawks didn’t really have a specific plan until Chuck came there, but the first time he talked with us, he articulated his plan. It wasn’t complicated. It was pretty straightforward. We were going to practice hard and we were going to be prepared.”
Simple, yet powerful. I was a young reporter with the Yakima Herald-Republic during Knox’s Seattle heyday, and when I would drive over to cover the occasional Seahawks game, his aura was unmistakable. Knox was gruff and stern, but occasionally — especially after wins — his eyes would soften and the hint of a smile would twitch his lips. When he uttered one of his “Knox-isms,’’ you felt rewarded. For a guy who was at times derisively called “Coach Cliché,” there was profundity and wit to be found as well.
Knox once told reporters in Buffalo that star running back Joe Cribbs “has a little wiggle in his waddle.”
Other Knox gems:
• “A hard man comes hard, down a hard road.”
• “Remember your six P’s — Perfect Practice Prevents Piss Poor Performance.”
• “The difference between a champ and a chump is U.”
• (Most famous of all), “Football players make football plays.”
Knox was adaptable. When running back Warner went down early in 1984, Knox ditched his trademark “Ground Chuck” run-based offense and went to a wide-open passing game and Seattle went 12-4. He was innovative, among the first to incorporate the shotgun formation into his offense. He was progressive, installing James Harris as the NFL’s first African-American regular starting quarterback with the Rams. And he was generous, donating $1 million to his alma mater, Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., to endow a chair in history, which had been his major.
Knox once said, “I’ve never been associated with a bad win,” though he did have some painful losses and never reached the ultimate goal of winning, or even making, the Super Bowl. That’s no doubt all that’s keeping him out of the Hall of Fame in Canton.
But in Seattle, Knox should be remembered as a towering figure of transformative power. Knox often said he didn’t care about legacy, but his was as legendary as they come in Seahawks football. What he did spoke volumes.
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