An old-school badass, Coach Knox seized the reins in Seattle in 1983 and wasted no time remaking the team in his winning image: a smashmouth, run-first offense, coupled with a bruising, larcenous defensive juggernaut.
Ground Chuck’s journeymen run-blockers paved the way for halfback Curt Warner — a lightning runner whose ankle-busting cuts froze and frustrated hapless defenders. To compensate for an offensive line far less adept at pass blocking, Knox boldly benched fan favorite Jim Zorn in favor of backup quarterback Dave Krieg, an uncanny gamer who remained reviled by ungrateful Seahawks fans despite a consistent knack for winning, greater accuracy, vastly superior chemistry with Steve Largent, and Hall of Fame-caliber statistics that clearly establish him as one of the finest passers of ‘80s.
On defense, Knox knew how to stuff the run, pressure passers, and force turnovers. In his 3–4 scheme, All-Pro nose tackle Joe Nash wrecked the middle while linebackers knifed through for the kill. A long, tall Texan — the All-Pro sackmaster, defensive end Jacob Green — sped in to haul quarterbacks to the turf, force fumbles, and even grab an occasional interception. How fast was Green? In 1983, he finished Cleveland by picking off a Brian Sipe pass and sprinting for a 73-yard touchdown. In 1985, #79 scooped up a Jets fumble and ran for a 79-yard score.
Knox’s secondary lacked a catchy nickname, but it hit as hard as the Legion of Boom — and grabbed far more interceptions. All-Pro strong safety Kenny Easley laid wood like Kam Chancellor, nabbed picks like Earl Thomas, and returned punts as well as Golden Tate. Though decent before Ground Chuck came to town, Dave Brown blossomed into an All-Pro shutdown corner under Knox.
Knox made Seattle a winner and took the Seahawks to the playoffs several times. Critics blamed the coach’s conservatism for limited success in the playoffs, and there is something to that, but Knox proved more resourceful than his detractors remember.
No prisoner to philosophy, Coach did what he needed to do to win. In 1984, after Seattle lost star running back Curt Warner to injury in Week One, Coach adapted by wisely ditching Ground Chuck and adopting an Air Knox offense. The team rallied around Krieg, who rose to the occasion and posted Dan Fouts-like numbers. In the playoffs against the Raiders — who had eliminated Seattle the previous year en route to a Super Bowl win — Knox confounded the Raider defense by reverting to Ground Chuck and running the ball right at All-Pro defensive end Howie Long. Backup fullback Dan Doornink carried the ball 29 times for 126 yards, and the Seahawks won, 13–7, eliminating the defending Super Bowl champions from the postseason. Long curses Doornink’s name to this day, but he should blame Knox, the strategic architect of the Raiders’ defeat.
Unfortunately for Knox, a series of poor personnel decisions by the team’s front office squandered draft picks and diluted the team’s talent. Coach kept the team competitive, but still got blamed for the team’s lack of progress. Matters grew worse when Ken Behring bought the team, burned Knox, and intentionally wrecked the roster to justify a move to Anaheim — a civic theft ultimately averted by Paul Allen’s purchase of the franchise. Still, it took more than a decade for the team to recover fully from Behring’s vandalism.
Knox had won NFL Coach of the Year honors with the LA Rams & the Bills before earning the award a third time in Seattle. After leaving the Seahawks, he returned to Los Angeles to coach the Rams. He inherited a terrible team and failed to improve it much. After three seasons, the erratic owner fired Knox and moved the franchise to St. Louis.
Coach’s mind began fading into the fog of dementia a few years ago, but Seahawk Diehards of a certain vintage will always remember Knox for making Seattle a winner and engineering the team’s first Silver Age.
Postscript: Chuck Knox as an NFL civil rights leader
To his enduring credit, Knox defied the league’s racist norms, starting early in his career.
In the ’60s and ’70s, pro coaches commonly assumed black athletes incapable of playing the game’s most cerebral positions: quarterback, center, and middle linebacker.
Knox knew that was bullshit.
In the late ’60s, as Detroit’s offensive line coach, he assigned Bill Cottrell to center.
More controversially, in 1974, as head coach of the Rams, Knox made James Harris his starting quarterback — boldly promoting him ahead of Bill Hadl, who in 1973 had led LA to a division title while earning All-Pro and NFC Player of the Year honors.
After Hadl floundered in the first few games of 1974, Knox benched him and inserted Harris, who rose to the occasion by making the Pro Bowl and leading the Rams to another division title. Knox ended the race-fueled quarterback controversy by trading away Hadl and sticking with Harris, who led the Rams to two more division titles.
However, after one bad game in 1976, team owner Carroll Rosenbloom forced Knox to bench Harris — the NFC’s top-rated passer — for fan favorite Pat Haden, a rookie from USC. Short and small-handed, Haden underperformed, but white privilege prevailed. After the season, Rosenbloom traded Harris and acquired a washed-up Joe Namath, who played poorly on wrecked knees before yielding to Haden. Despite Rosenbloom’s relentless roster sabotage, Knox won a fifth consecutive division title, but got fired for losing in the playoffs. Knox landed on his feet in Buffalo. As for Harris, he backed up Dan Fouts in San Diego for a few years, and later became a successful NFL executive.
Because Knox made personnel decisions based on merit rather than race, black players honored him with the nickname Dolemite — after the hero of a 1975 blaxploitation flick.