He Took His Knocks, Left Game a Winner

Chuck Knox and his wife of 45 years are wandering down the aisles of their local supermarket, the old coach frustrated by his partner's unwillingness to prepare a proper game plan.

"We've got this shopping list and there's 10 aisles in the store," says Knox, shaking his head. "And I don't understand after all these years of shopping why she hasn't written down the aisle number next to the item on the list so we can just go there."

Twenty-four years ago this week, Chuck Knox was stalking the sideline, 81,248 fans

sitting in the Coliseum, the undefeated Los Angeles Rams winning their fifth game, a 37-31 explosion over the Dallas Cowboys with John Hadl throwing four touchdown passes to Harold Jackson.

"We did throw it," says Knox, still capable of assuming the role of rankled coach not happy with a "Ground Chuck" moniker that will forever follow him.

"Ah, but what great times and memories in Los Angeles," says Knox, 65, who is now three seasons removed from a 41-year career in coaching. "No reason why those days can't come back here again; I know there are enough people out there who love football and remember how good it can be."

The Rams are preparing to play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, while Knox, who still admits to drawing plays in idle time, will be with his family after his two-mile morning walk.

"I smell the air,' he says. "I look around at things. I can ride in the car with the radio on and listen to it--something I never could do when I was coaching. I'm not so preoccupied as I was when I was coaching, driving by my office and missing the turn I made a thousand times because I was off thinking somewhere.

"I get bored at times, but I do some charity work and I enjoy watching all the games. My son is coaching with the Eagles, and I have a number of my coaches all around the league.

"Last week we did the tourist thing at Sea World--never did that when I was coaching," he says, looking well-rested, 20 pounds lighter and in no hurry to oversee a two-minute drill. "I took two of my granddaughters, saw Shamu, bought fish so they could feed the dolphins and checked out the penguins."

Grandpa, it seems, is doing just fine despite an ignominious closing chapter to a career of otherwise consistent success. A few months before the Rams loaded the vans for St. Louis, they fired Knox--his last season in coaching ending with seven consecutive losses.

Ranked sixth overall in the NFL history with 193 wins, along with 158 defeats and a tie, he would have compiled a record of 178-125-1 had he not agreed to take command of the Rams in their final three turmoil-filled years in Anaheim.

"Coaching was everything to me, and it hurt in the end," he says. "There was disappointment, but I think I was in control of myself enough that I didn't feel like I had to come back and prove anything to anybody. I proved what I had to prove to myself when I looked back on where I had come from, where I had started and where I was today with the success I had. I'm at peace with myself."

His teams, however, never made it to a Super Bowl.

"I've wrestled with that," says Knox, splitting time now between Del Mar and the Palm Springs area. "It bothered me when it was time to get out and I hadn't accomplished that. But I've had three years now without coaching and I have dealt with that. Sure, I've had thoughts about going back; I won't deny that. You always have flashbacks and you start thinking about getting a group ready again and fulfilling the ultimate of winning a Super Bowl, but you have to let it go."

There have been only nine coaches to last 20 years or longer in the NFL as a head coach, and Knox stood tall for 22 seasons. He turned the Rams around in his first job, then worked miracles with the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks before returning to the Rams.

"I could still coach because coaching is teaching," Knox says, but while Dick Vermeil and Mike Ditka have returned to the sideline, Knox will not. "I'm not tempted in the least.

"And I'll tell you what, I can't have any self-pity for the way I went out. I never allowed that when I was coaching--that's a loser's lament. I still miss it sometimes. I remember the great wins and the highs, but reflecting on it, would I want to be in there now going through all that again? I don't think so.

"I know what people said, but I don't feel I lost it in the end; we lost games and I can say I probably didn't do as good a job coaching maybe as I did earlier, but we were under a different set of circumstances. Besides, you look at it historically, and not many coaches go out on a pleasant note."

And not many coaches have such a well-defined legacy. "Our teams were well-prepared, they played hard and we won a lot of football games. Just as importantly, I'd like to think I had an impact on the lives of a number of young men and helped them be better for it."

Knox has been funding a college scholarship in his hometown of Sewickley, Pa., for years. He has also helped raise money for a high school hall of fame, which already has inducted him as a charter member.

Juniata College, his alma mater, has named its football field in his honor, and the towns of Sewickley and Leetsdale have combined to form Quaker Valley High School. Each Friday night under the lights, the kids play football in Chuck Knox Stadium.

In Los Angeles, meanwhile, it's out of sight, out of mind. A long list of characters interested in the return of football has been running around looking for insight on how to make it happen, ignoring one of Los Angeles' great resources.

During his first stint with the Rams, which lasted five seasons, Knox coached the team when it still played in Los Angeles, prior to the move to Anaheim. It was a time when almost everyone was a Ram fan, and five times his teams won division titles, advancing to the NFC championship three consecutive years. Taking over a team that had gone 6-7-1 a year earlier, Knox immediately went 12-2, and when he left, he took with him a 54-15-1 regular-season mark.

"I remember filling the Coliseum in the '70s when we won," says Knox, who is on a first-name basis with NFL owners and executives. "I know a lot of people said it would never happen when there was talk of both teams leaving, but that just goes to show you you can't take anything for granted.

"Los Angeles is in a situation where there are so many questions, so many things that have to be addressed. But it's a great market and it's a do-able thing. I would be happy to help where I could, but listen, it's not something I'm seeking."

No, the people who are interested in the return of professional football to Los Angeles should be seeking his counsel.

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