Not only did Chuck Knox coach three NFL franchises — the Rams, Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks — but he was named the league's coach of the year with all three.
Knox, whose gritty toughness reflected his background as the son of a Western Pennsylvania steel worker, died Saturday after a lengthy battle with dementia, the Seahawks confirmed Sunday. He was 86.
"I never had a guy that breathed intensity into a group of men before kickoff as well as he did," said former Rams tackle Jackie Slater, whose Hall of Fame career was bookended by stints under Knox.
Slater recalled a game at Dallas during the 1992 season when the Rams were double-digit underdogs to the Cowboys, who boasted the best defense in football. It was a simple pregame speech from Knox. He read aloud a newspaper excerpt that previewed the mismatch, spit on the locker room floor, then walked out.
"The guys didn't say a word," Slater said. "We watched him walk out of the room, gathered our own thoughts, then started grabbing our helmets and it was, 'Here we go.'"
Those Rams pulled off a 27-23 upset, setting the tone with 110 yards rushing from Cleveland Gary to break the Cowboys' 11-game home winning streak. The power running game was a hallmark of Knox's teams, something that earned him the nickname "Ground Chuck."
"We wore it as a medal of honor," Slater said of that moniker. "The nickname Ground Chuck spoke volumes for the men that he fielded. Because when you say `Ground Chuck,' you're basically saying to a defense, 'Hey, you guys better get ready, dig in, put your hands on the ground, because this is what we're going to do to you.'"
Although he had two stints with the Rams, from 1973 to 77 and 1992 to 94, Knox spent the longest continuous stretch of his career with the Seahawks, where his teams had winning records in six of his nine seasons. Seattle reached the AFC title game in the coach's first season there and won 12 games the next year. He is the only coach in the club's ring of honor.
Even before he coached a game in Seattle, he made it clear that running the ball was his priority. The Seahawks traded up to the third selection in the 1983 draft and chose Penn State running back Curt Warner, who would win rookie-of-the-year honors. Those Seahawks, with fixtures such as future Hall of Famers Steve Largent and Kenny Easley, went from a doormat to a predictably tough opponent that embraced the blue-collar ethos of their coach.
"Chuck Knox had that John Wayne thing, where you knew he was the guy in charge," former Seahawks quarterback Dave Krieg said. "You were going to do things his way, old-school Pennsylvania style. But he also had a proven track record, so that gave our team confidence. He let you know who was the boss."
The Rams released a statement Sunday about the coach: "We are saddened by the loss of Chuck Knox, a legendary coach and member of the Los Angeles Rams family. He established a winning culture and a legacy that will never be forgotten, being the only coach to lead the Rams to five consecutive double-digit-win seasons. The memories and accomplishments that Coach Knox left behind will continue to inspire us and Rams fans."
Born April 27, 1932, in Sewickley, Pa., Charles Robert Knox was a 190-pound tackle at Juniata College who started on both the offensive and defensive lines. He would begin his coaching career at his alma mater, but would go on to coach the offensive lines for the New York Jets and Detroit Lions before becoming a head coach.
"You'd watch him walk out to practice, and he'd stroll out there with his hat on crooked in a demanding sort of a way, and you knew that it was time to work," Slater said. "You knew that the scrutinizing eyes were upon you, and you knew what the expectations were all the time."
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesFarmer
2:35 p.m.: This story has been updated throughout with staff reporting.