Hard Knox

There have been a handful of times in my life where I have personally gone through some difficulties. Most of us have people or sources we turn to for inspiration or guidance. For myself, one book I have read probably 15-20 times has been one called Hard Knox, which was the autobiography of former Seahawk coach Chuck Knox.

The guy was smart and compassionate to his players, but also one tough S.O.B. He had his famous "Knoxisms", that came from stories and experiences he had learned throughout his often difficult life. I quote him all the time-- to myself, in my writings and in conversation.

Given the current atmosphere surrounding Husky football, I thought I would bring forth one of my favorite stories from that book. It carries with it an expression that I have framed on my office wall, and something that I repeat to myself constantly.

This story comes from when Chuck Knox was an offensive line coach for the Detroit Lions in 1970. The Lions had just been whipped by the Minnesota Vikings, and his O-line had surrendered eleven quarterback sacks! The head coach was on his case, and the team was looking at his line as being the weak spot.

Here then, Chuck Knox, a quote from his book:

"I had to think of something that would blow my linemen away. They had already seen me do just about everything, so I had to come up with something special, a speech containing the unexpected. I think in listening to someone talk, the listener remembers three things- the first thing the speaker says, the last thing he says, and anything unusual. So I decided to get unusual."

His linemen were very nervous as Knox entered into the room for the Monday film meeting. He had a fiery personality and they were prepared for him to rant and rave like a wild man. But he didn't say much of anything. He merely stated, "I'm leaving. You guys watch this damn film. I can't stand to look at it anymore. When you're done, somebody burn it."

But there was more to his plan than simply giving a burn-the-film speech. He ordered the offensive line to report to Tiger Stadium the next day, which was their only day off during the season.

Said lineman Rocky Freitas, "We get there on a cold November Tuesday afternoon, while the rest of the team is enjoying time in front of the fire with their families. Knox turns on all the stadium lights and pulls out the blocking sled, the most disgusting of all instruments, used for the most monotonous and exhausting of drills. Some say sleds build muscle and technique. I think they just build anger."

"After several guys are close to dropping, Knox jumps off the sled and finds a piece of dry earth for one-on-one pass protection drills. It's crazy. It's awful. We fight. A few more drop. We finally stop. But we never forget."

Said Knox: "I wanted them out there on that frozen field as a way of telling them, "Don't ever again tell me how rough the waters are, just bring the ship in."

That's the expression that I have over my desk. When I face situations that are tough and there are options available for an easy way out, I just think of that expression.

For everyone involved with Husky football, we only have to look to the 2002 California Golden Bears as a role model of sorts. For them, their miserable 1-10 record from last year was obviously just mental and schematic. Look at them now! With the new attitude and fresh confidence that has been breathed into that program, they are playing great, inspired football.

Washington's situation doesn't necessarily require a new coach or changes at the end of the year. They can be made mid-season. They can be made right now. Chuck Knox's Offensive line, the one that surrendered eleven sacks, came to be regarded as one of the best in the NFL that year. The Lions also made the playoffs for the first time in eight long seasons.

Washington's football heritage means much more than what we're seeing. Yes, there are excuses that have been made, such as injuries and inexperience. But the coaches are now feeling the gravity of the situation, as there is swirling speculation about job security. Perhaps the players are finally getting the big picture, too. Maybe they just need a little reality scared into them.

As Coach Neuheisel referred Monday to the potentially rewarding experience to be had in finding a way out of this mess, I point to this second story from Hard Knox. A huge game on Monday Night Football was coming up against the powerful Los Angeles Rams.

Knox writes "I've got my own worries. Kowalkowski (his Offensive Lineman) has a bad back and is unable to practice all week. So we can't plan on playing him. But then tackle Jim Yarbrough's sore knee is reinjured and somebody is needed to take his place. We've got just one guy, Kowalkowski."

Knox corners him in the locker room the day before the game.

"Can you go?" he asks.

At tackle?" Kowalkowski gapes. "I've never even played tackle. And against Coy Bacon? An All-Pro??"

"I know who he is," Knox answered. "Can you go?"

Knox's hope was coaching players not to play a specific position, but just to play. Everything he taught them about a winning edge, he hoped could be applied anywhere. Knox hoped that he had spent four years teaching Kowalkowski not to be just a damn good guard, but a damn good football player. His answer told him that he had succeeded.

"I'm going," he said.

Knox writes, "The next night Kowal gets his butt beat on the first play. But he doesn't get beat again. We win 28-23, and (coach) Joe Schmidt is ecstatic and Howard Cosell raves over this young offensive-line coach named Knox. But afterward, there is only one person I want to be with."

Said Kowalkowski: "Knox runs over, and with all the television lights on all the big heroes, he gives me the game ball. Just me. I've got plenty of game balls, but none ever meant more."

Said Knox: "Afterward we party all the way down the interstate to Long Beach. Schmidt stops the bus at a liquor store and orders cases of beer brought aboard. Later he dances on a table in the bar. That's why nights like that 1970 night against the Rams make it worth it. That's the payback. It doesn't last long - it lasts maybe only that night - but it does exist. That night, and on many nights since, I have told the guys there are two great things about pro football, winning and getting paid. If you're lucky enough, you can experience both."

In the case of college football, I guess the two great things would be winning and securing an education.

If the Husky players can reach deeper than they ever have felt the need to before, then perhaps there will be more to this season than a mid-year eulogy.
Derek Johnson can be reached at djohnson@Dawgman.com

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