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College Discovers Its Own Fort Knox

By giving $1 million, the former Ram coach is a big man on campus at his alma mater.

January 27, 2005|Bob Oates | Special to The Times

Juniata College, a small school in the heart of Pennsylvania's Allegheny Mountains, was forming a committee to raise funds for its new football stadium a few years back when it asked an alumnus, former Ram Coach Chuck Knox, to serve as chairman.

Knox agreed, with one condition.

"We'll have to motivate them," he told the school. "We'll have to name the place after the person who gives the most money."

So that's how Juniata's new football field at Huntingdon, Pa., came to be named Chuck Knox Stadium.

Knox, who lives in a desert mansion in La Quinta near Palm Springs, has always had a soft spot in his heart for Juniata, where he graduated in the 1950s before beginning a 32-year career as a football coach -- including three successful tours as an NFL head coach at Seattle and Buffalo, as well as the Los Angeles Rams.

He goes along with the late Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, who, speaking of another idyllic school, said: "It's only a small college, sir, but there are those who love it."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday January 28, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 60 words Type of Material: Correction
Webster quote -- In a Sports section article Thursday about former Ram Coach Chuck Knox and his relationship with Juniata College of Pennsylvania, a quote was attributed to Charles Evans Hughes. The quote -- "It is, sir, as I have said, a small college, and yet there are those who love it" -- should have been attributed to Daniel Webster.

When Juniata President Tom Kepple came calling again this year, ostensibly to enjoy La Quinta's winter climate for a few days, it was easy for one of his two most famous graduates -- the other is Bill Phillips, a Nobel Prize winner in physics -- to do the old school another favor.

Knox, endowing a history chair at Juniata, sent $1 million.

"I happened to have some loose change," he said Wednesday.

If that confirms that the 72-year-old former football coach is a multimillionaire, it doesn't surprise his old friends, who recall that he was always careful with money and investments.

As they note, his deep conservatism in all things from football to finance has now paid off for Juniata.

Even so, all these years after his school days, it isn't every rich old coach who gives his alma mater $1 million. What prompts Knox to think so highly of Juniata?

"I was working at a steel mill in my hometown [Sewickley, Pa.] when I decided to go to college," he said. "I had four wonderful years there. I met my wife [Shirley] there. And I developed my interest in American history there. Juniata is all about education, and that's influenced the rest of my life and my career. Coaching is just teaching. A football field is just an extension of the classroom."

What's more, he believes, Juniata's commitment to education ran deeper than many other schools of his time.

"You didn't just finish your course work at Juniata, take a degree, and take off," he said. "In our senior year, we all had to sit through a comprehensive examination in our major. Mine was history, and it was an eight-hour exam -- seven hours written, one hour oral."

Son of an Irish-born steelworker, Knox, who holds an honorary doctorate from Juniata, will now be remembered "forever," Juniata people say, noting that endowed professorships have permanent titles, in this case: the Dr. Charles R. and Shirley A. Knox Chair in History.

"Into perpetuity," said Dr. Charles R., who used to be plain Chuck, a three-year offensive lineman and co-captain at Juniata.

He and Shirley are the parents of the Minnesota Vikings' defensive backfield coach, Chuck Knox Jr., as well as three daughters who live in Michigan, Colorado and Redlands.

Knox, who until a recent back problem stepped out regularly to play golf on his home course, La Quinta Country Club, is remembered in Los Angeles as the most consistent winner among Ram coaches. The club won a record five divisional titles in Knox's five seasons, 1973 to 1977.

His best quarterback, old Rams recall, was 5-foot-11 Pat Haden, a Los Angeles lawyer, who said, "The reason Chuck never won a Super Bowl is that he never had the quarterback."

Knox's interest in football hasn't waned. Nor has his conservatism. Asked to identify the winner of Super Bowl XXXIX on Feb. 6, New England or Philadelphia, he made a forecast worthy of his whole career.

"They both have good defenses," he said. "They both have excellent quarterbacks, and they both have a running back. The winner will be the team that doesn't turn the ball over."

In all the 39 editions of the Super Bowl, he's said the same thing, word for word.

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