Chuck Knox ‘brought great glory’ to Juniata College
When he became president of Juniata College in 2013, one of Jim Troha’s first acts was to hop on a plane to California to visit with Juniata’s favorite son.
Troha sat on the back porch of Chuck Knox’s home in Anaheim, and the two smoked a cigar.
Troha said the other day in reflection of Knox’s passing, “That was very cool.”
Knox died at 86 on May 12 in Palm Springs from dementia.
Though many of us unfortunately know the depths of the dreaded disease, “Anytime you mentioned Juniata, he knew that word, and that helped him understand who I was,” Troha said of their visit, the first of three he had with Knox in the last five years. “Making the connection to Juniata was clear for him.”
Troha grew up in Cleveland — as a (suffering) Browns fan to this day, no less — and had long admired what Knox accomplished as an NFL head coach in Buffalo, Seattle and with the Los Angeles Rams.
Once at Juniata, Troha learned the school’s football field was named for Knox, and that the coach had an equal passion for education, having donated $1 million to endow a chair in the school’s history department.
Ground Chuck, as he later became known for his commitment to the running game, was a history major who at one time was considering becoming a teacher.
“If you look back at his humble beginnings, he references the foundation he had from an educational perspective,” Troha said. “Juniata was foundational in how he interpreted his world. For all his athletic accomplishments, that’s not what he gave his money to.
“The most fascinating thing about him is for all this athletic prowess, how much his educational experience meant to him was the epitome of somebody who took that breadth of education and made it work for him in the area of coaching.”
As a two-way lineman, Knox co-captained Juniata’s first unbeaten team (1953), which played in the Tangerine Bowl.
Current Juniata football coach Tim Launtz, a Huntingdon native and Juniata alumnus, said Knox’s imprint on the football program remains strong.
“The first time I met Coach Knox was in our kitchen when I was a kid,” Launtz, now 60, said. “He stopped by with friends of my father’s. They had mutual friends.
“In every sense of the word, Coach Knox was a Juniata man. It’s very evident he really treasured his time at Juniata.”
Knox served as a Juniata College trustee from 1978-99. In addition to his gift of $1 million, Knox and his wife Shirley, a Huntingdon native, helped fund lighting at Knox Stadium while Knox served as honorary chairman of another $1 million campaign to improve the school’s athletic facilities.
“Coach Knox’s contributions to Juniata and Juniata athletics are countless,” athletic director Greg Curley said. “(He was) a key member of our football program’s glory years — his name adorns our stadium, and his achievements on football’s biggest stage continue to be a great point of pride for our alumni, coaches and student-athletes.”
“He brought great glory to Juniata,” Launtz said.
On one of his last visits, within the last 10 years, Knox returned with some of his teammates and “sprinkled ashes on the field for his old coach, Bill Smaltz,” Launtz said.
A Sewickley native who climbed the ranks, Knox coached in high school, college and as assistant in the NFL before becoming the 10th winningest coach in NFL history with 193 victories.
As an offensive line coach with the Detroit Lions, Knox helped develop Altoona’s Ed Flanagan into an all-pro center and served as his presenter at the inaugural Blair County Sports Hall of Fame induction in 1987.
“Chuck was a great guy and a great coach,” Flanagan said. “I loved him. He was a great teacher of fundamentals, and he got his point across without screaming and yelling.”
Troha has been trying to make a case for Knox’s induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and while that’s probably unlikely at this point, it certainly doesn’t taint his legacy.
“Coach Knox will live on forever in the history of Juniata College and the NFL,” Launtz said. “Juniata College and the NFL lost a true model who set the bar high for men in the coaching profession. The one thing we all take from Coach Knox is he left everything he encountered better than what he found it.”
A career worthy of a victory cigar, for sure.