Before Chuck Knox went into the Seattle Seahawks Ring of Honor in 2005, he told reporters, “I’m not concerned about legacies.” Knox added that his assistant coaches and players “deserve the credit” for the success the franchise enjoyed during his tenure in Seattle.
But even if Knox wasn’t concerned about his legacy, he still built an impressive and lasting one in his nine seasons as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, becoming one of the most significant figures in franchise history.
Knox, who has battled dementia in recent years, has passed away at the age of 86, bringing an end to the remarkable life of a man from Sewickley, Pennsylvania who became one of the winningest coaches in NFL history.
“He was successful everywhere he went for a long, long period of time,” said Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent, who spent the final seven years of his career playing for Knox. “I really enjoyed playing for him. He was a guy who just commanded respect, and you gave it to him. But at the same time, he really was a players’ coach. He was a guy who appreciated the guys who played for him and he really went out of his way to accommodate players, whether that was through certain plays he would call or through the practice schedule or whatever. He was a real players’ coach, and you can’t say that about every head coach in the National Football League, but you could definitely say it about Chuck Knox.”
Following successful runs with the Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills, Knox was named the head coach of the Seahawks in 1983 and immediately made a big impact. The Seahawks went 9-7 that year, making the postseason for the first time in the young history of the franchise. And not only did those ’83 Seahawks make the playoffs, they won a pair of postseason games, including a stunning divisional round win in Miami over Don Shula’s 12-4 Dolphins. That game stood as Seattle’s only road playoff win for nearly three decades until the 2012 Seahawks won a wild card game at Washington.
The Seahawks went 12-4 in 1984 despite playing the entire season without Pro-Bowl running back Curt Warner, leading to Knox earning AP NFL Coach of the Year honors. He also earned Coach of the Year honors with both the Rams and Bills earlier in his career, and was the first NFL coach to win a division title with three different teams. Knox led the Seahawks back to the playoffs in 1987 and 1988, with the ’88 squad capturing the first AFC West title in franchise history.
“He put us in the position to where when people came out to play the Seahawks, you knew you had to have your best game,” said defensive end Jacob Green, a member of the Seahawks Ring of Honor. “We went from being not even contending, then Chuck came in and immediately we make a run, get to the AFC championship game, and it was on from then on. He brought stability to the Seahawks, we were one of the teams to beat.”
Knox finished his Seahawks career with an 80-63 record, giving him just six fewer wins than Mike Holmgren’s franchise-best total, and one more than Pete Carroll’s current total. Knox, who has a 186-147-1 career record, giving him the 10th most wins in league history, became the first coach in the Seahawks Ring of Honor in 2005, joining former play-by-play man Pete Gross, as well as seven players, all of whom played for him.
In no small part because of the heights Knox led the team to in the 1980s, the Kingdome gained a reputation for being one of the league’s loudest stadiums, and as a result, the No. 12 was retired late in the 1984 season.
“The way he went about his business, the way he treated his players, he just treated you right,” Green said. “One of his big deals was always treating someone like you want to be treated. He was also that coach who put the Seahawks on the map as far as really turning the program around and making us feared instead of being a team that everyone wanted to come play.
“We had some great times, man. As a player, you wanted to go to work. You didn’t hate going to work. You loved going to work. I couldn’t wait to get to practice and go to work and see all the guys and play as a team. That’s what he brought. He brought the whole city together.”
Green and other players made it clear that, despite his sometimes tough demeanor, Knox was beloved by his players, even when he was hard on them.
“There were a lot of moments where, at the time, I didn’t like it, but looking back on it, I appreciate it,” said former Seahawks linebacker Dave Wyman, who currently co-hosts the Danny, Dave and Moore Show on 710 ESPN Seattle and serves as an analyst on the Seahawks pregame and postgame shows. “He had a conversation with me when my play was slumping one time, it was the night before a game, he said, ‘Look, you need to change the way you’re playing and play better or else you’re going to be standing next to me.’ It doesn’t get more direct than that, and it was message delivered, and it helped me. It was one of those things at the time that you don’t like, but I needed to hear it. That kind of coaching helped me become a better player. I had four coaches, Tom Flores, who won a Super Bowl, I had Mike Shanahan, who won a Super Bowl, and Wade Phillips, and I always say the best head coach I had was Chuck Knox. Having him early on really helped me, because I had him my rookie year through 1991, so five years. I wouldn’t trade that in for anything, because he taught players not only how to become professionals, but also how to become men.”
Green recalled a time when, following a big road victory, Knox had the team bus pull over for a beer stop on the way to the airport.
“We celebrated all the way home,” Green said. “He was a players’ coach. He knew how to get the best out of players. I never really heard anyone say a negative thing about Chuck Knox.”
And of course, Knox’s former players will always fondly remember their favorite “Knoxisms,” the sayings they’d hear from their coach on a regular basis, memorable phrases such as “Never overload your butt with your mouth.”
“I have an entire library of Knoxisms, because I just got the biggest kick out of him talking about growing up in Pennsylvania—‘A hard man comes down a hard road,’” Largent said. “It was just him. If somebody else had tried to do it the way Chuck did, it wouldn’t have worked, but with Chuck it was authentic and real. Everyone got a kick out of Chuck, but he didn’t do it just to be funny, he had a point and he always was able to make his point in a very profound way.”
Green’s favorite was, “Work will win and wishing won’t,” while guard Reggie McKenzie, who played for Knox both in Buffalo and Seattle, is fond of, “What you do speaks so well, no need to hear what you say.” McKenzie noted, “I still use that one to this day.”
From his on-field success to his big heart to his memorable one-liners, Knox’s legacy in Seattle is secure, even if that was never his concern. In nine seasons with the Seahawks, Knox brought playoff football to Seattle, helped establish one of the best fan cultures in the NFL and built relationships with his players and assistant coaches that lasted a lifetime.
“If I could talk to him today, I would say to him—and he’d look at me with those steely blues—I’d say to him, ‘Hey man, you had a great run,’” McKenzie said. “Man did he have a great run.”