Chuck Knox, who led the Seahawks to their first playoff berth, a surprising run in 1983 to within a game of the Super Bowl in 1983 and is the second-winningest coach in franchise history, died Saturday at age 86, the team confirmed Sunday.
Knox, the only coach in the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor, had battled dementia and was in hospice care.
Knox’s affinity for a run-first offense earned him the nickname “Ground Chuck” during a 22-year career as an NFL head coach that included stints with the Los Angeles Rams in the 1970s and ’90s and the Buffalo Bills.
He won three NFL Coach of the Year Awards — including in 1984 with Seattle — and earned a reputation for sayings that his players fondly termed “Knoxisms.” They were as straight-forward as the style of play he preferred, such as, “Play the hand you’re dealt” and, “Football players make football plays.”
Knox was named as the second permanent head coach in Seahawks history in February 1983 following the firing of Jack Patera early in the 1982 season. General manager Mike McCormack coached the rest of the 1982 season on an interim basis.
Knox was available after resigning as coach of the Bills — a team he had revived and led to two playoff berths in his last three years — following a contract dispute.
He quickly transformed a Seattle franchise that had not had a winning season since 1979 and had gone 14-25 in the previous three seasons into a perennial playoff contender that lit up the Kingdome throughout the 1980s. The Seahawks retired the No. 12 in 1984 as an homage to the decibel-record-setting crowds that greeted them every week.
In Knox’s first major move as coach, the Seahawks moved up to the third overall selection in the 1983 NFL draft and took running back Curt Warner out of Penn State.
Warner won Rookie of the Year honors and teamed with receiver Steve Largent and a defense led by safety Kenny Easley — both later named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame — to lead Seattle to a 9-7 record and wild-card playoff berth in 1983.
Seattle then beat Denver in the wild-card round to set up what many consider the biggest upset in Seahawks history — a 27-20 win at Miami in the divisional round against a Dolphins team led by Dan Marino that had gone 12-4 and was an eight-point favorite.
The game served as the template for the Knox era as the Seahawks forced five turnovers and rushed for 151 yards in holding the ball for 34 minutes and 58 seconds.
The Seahawks lost 30-14 to Oakland in the AFC title game a week later, but the two playoff wins set the stage for a run of four playoff appearances in five years. The 1980s was a decade when Seahawks football was the hottest thing in Seattle pro sports, with the Mariners barely relevant and the Sonics falling into a malaise following their only NBA title in 1979.
Knox, though, was a far less conservative and far more adaptable coach than his “Ground Chuck” nickname might have indicated, as became evident during his second season in Seattle in 1984.
A season that began with high expectations opened with a thud, as Warner suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game.
With Warner out and the running game largely non-existent, Knox instead turned quarterback Dave Krieg and Largent loose and Krieg responded with 32 touchdown passes — a team record until Russell Wilson broke it in 2015 — and Seattle went 12-4 despite no running back gaining more than the 327 yards by David Hughes. The 12 wins remain tied as the second-best in team history.
An aggressive defense led by Easley also forced 63 turnovers, which remains second-most in NFL history for one season and is nine more than any team in Seahawks history.
Knox was born April 27, 1932 in Sewickley, Pa., initially thinking he was destined to a life working in the local mills until a coach at Juanita College convinced him to return to school and the football team after he had left early in his freshman season.
“I knew I could make a good living working in the mills,” Knox told then-Seattle Times columnist Steve Kelley in 2005. “I decided I didn’t want to fuss with the rest of it, so I hitch-hiked back home.”
But a few days later he returned to school and football, and he never looked back.
He first gained renown as the offensive-line coach of the New York Jets (1963-66) and Detroit Lions (1967-72) before being named coach of the Rams in 1973.
He was an immediate hit, leading the Rams to an NFC-best 12-2 record and a point differential of 210 that led the NFL
But foreshadowing postseason disappointments to come, the Rams were defeated in the divisional playoffs by the Cowboys.
The Rams lost three times in the NFC title game in Knox’s five seasons, and he lost his only conference title game with the Seahawks. He never reached a Super Bowl, often tabbed among the best coaches to never play for a ring.
The Seahawks made it to the playoffs four of his first five seasons, including winning their first division title in 1988 with a final-game win against the Raiders in Los Angeles.
But the season was already tinged with change, the team having been purchased earlier in the year by Ken Behring. Things were never the same for Knox in Seattle, with Behring wielding a much heavier hand over the team’s moves.
Seattle missed the playoffs his last three seasons, and Knox resigned a few days after the season ended. He finished his Seattle career with a record of 80-63, second in wins behind Mike Holmgren (86-74). Current Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is third at 79-48.
Knox returned to Los Angeles to coach the Rams for three seasons, but the team went 6-10-, 5-11 and 4-12, and Knox was fired following the 1994 season. He was inducted into the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor in 2005.
He spent much of the rest of his life in Palm Springs, California.