Selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame historically measure their head coaches as they do their quarterbacks – by rings. And because former head coach Chuck Knox had none he’s not on anyone’s list.
But he should be.
Now, before we get started, let’s get something straight: I’m not saying Chuck Knox belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But I am saying he at least deserves a look … and not because he passed away last month. This is not a sympathy vote. It’s a motion to give him the audience he deserves.
Because wherever Chuck Knox went, he won. And he wasted no time winning.
He turned around the Los Angeles Rams in the 1970s, winning five straight division championships and going 54-15-1 before leaving after a conflict with the owner. So it was off to Buffalo, where he won a division championship there before … stop if you’ve heard this before … leaving in a dispute with the owner.
Then it was back to the West Coast and Seattle, where the Seahawks had won next to nothing after joining the NFL in 1977. Of course, that was before Knox arrived. In his first season there, he had them in the AFC championship game, and in four of his first six years in Seattle he was in the playoffs.
So what? So the Seahawks hadn’t been anywhere but Pike Place Market before Knox showed up.
In Knox’s first 16 seasons as an NFL head coach, he went to the playoffs 11 times and was in four conference championship games – including three with the Rams. Better yet, he was a three-time NFL Coach of the Year who had a combined record of 146-89 during that time and who twice took over losing teams and put them in the playoffs in his first seasons there.
And all without a Hall-of-Fame quarterback in the lineup.
In essence, he was Marty Schottenheimer before Marty Schottenheimer, with a lot of regular-season victories (187), a modicum of postseason success (7-11 in the playoffs) and no Super Bowl appearances. Schottenheimer has more career victories (200) but fewer playoff wins (5) and, like Knox, no Super Bowls.
Both preached conservative, error-free football – with Knox relying on the “Ground Chuck” approach that favored running the football over passing it, a philosophy Schottenheimer later embraced. Knox had Lawrence McCutcheon and Jim Bertelsen with the Rams, Joe Cribbs with Buffalo and Curt Warner with Seattle, while Schottenheimer had Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack in Cleveland, Christian Okoye and Marcus Allen in Kansas City and LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego.
And the formula worked.
But there was a difference. Unlike Knox, Schottenheimer exited the NFL a winner. In Schottenheimer’s last season he was an NFL-best 14-2 with San Diego. Then, of course, he lost the 2006 playoff opener and was gone – the victim of a fractious relationship with the team’s GM. Yet in Schottenheimer’s last six seasons, five of them with San Diego, he had only one losing year. And in his last three seasons he was a combined 35-13, with two division championships.
Knox was not so fortunate. In his last six seasons, he had only one winning year … and was a combined 15-33 in his last three seasons, all with the Rams.
That not only diminishes whatever Hall-of-Fame chances he might have had; it fractures them. But let me ask you this: Doesn’t someone who was a three-time Coach of the Year … who for 16 seasons was one of the standards for coaching success … and who resurrected three franchises, with a five-year run in L.A. that is comparable to almost any coach out there … doesn’t that guy at least deserve a look?
Knox once said, “What you do speaks so well, there’s no need to hear what you have to say.” And what Chuck Knox did so well was win … a lot …with teams that hadn’t won much of anything.
So let’s hear what we, as voters, have to say. Let’s give the candidacy of Chuck Knox what it deserves: A look. Nothing more. Nothing less. Because I’d at least like to hear what voters have to say about a career that produced so much success and acclaim … yet nothing from Canton.