Chuck Knox calls himself "a football player's coach." He has also proven to be a fans' coach and an owners' coach with a five-year record in Los Angeles of 54 victories, 14 defeats and one tie. That's the best in the NFL, except for Denver rookie Red Miller.
"I'm a person who is concerned about people," Knox said today, sitting in his far-from-plush office above the clubhouse at the Recreation Park Municipal Golf Course. "I realize there are other things in life more important to our players than football.
"I'm always willing to listen to any player or coach and I seriously consider every suggestion. I don't get involved in a personal problem a player may have unless he comes to me for advice, but I try to visit with all of them individually at various times. I'm always available to them. I'm not aloof. If somebody's telling a story and I come into the room, he doesn't stop, I can laugh with them."
Knox is meticulous, hard working, with a passion for detail - the little things that mean the difference between winning and losing. He never embarrasses a player publicly, he does not wage war with the media and he maintains complete control of temper except when he thinks an official has blown one. In that respect at least, Chuck Knox is human.
"I'm not perfect by any means," Knox said. "But you can't run around screaming and ranting and raving like a maniac on the practice field. When you scream at somebody who's missed a block, you hurt more than anything. Get up there and tell him on the way back to the huddle why he missed the block.
"On the opposite end, it's essential to give a guy recognition when he does something well. In my opinion, the little things are vital in human relationships - things like saying 'Thank you' and 'I live you' and 'No, ma'am,' instead of a cold, 'No.'"
The Rams have a minimal number of team rules but they ae strictly enforced. Friday, for example, every player will be in bed at 11 p.m., standard procedure the night before a game. Any criticism directed at a bus driver or hotel employee will bring a fine.
"Most of our rules remind people to be courteous," Knox said. "If we have a rule, everybody should be governed by it. If everyone knows the rule, then he fines himself. If you believe it is important for chinstraps to be buttoned, and it is a rule, then the chinstraps had better be buttoned all the time.
"You can't win in this game unless everyone is pulling together. And I mean everyone, from the trainer to the equipment man to the PR man to the players right up to the owner. You ning if you are to win constantly. And in order to have a total commitment to winning you must get along with each other, help each other, root for each other.
"I don't think it matters how much technical football you know. You can buy books that are full of Xs and Os. But we are in a people business and the only thing that counts is, when you ask a player to do something, when you try to sell him on a particular technique, how successful are you at getting him to do it?"
That doesn't mean Knox ignores the Xs and Os. Far from it. After each season, the films are broken down to the extent that each offensive play can be shown against each defense it encountered, and statistics buttress the films.
"We can see how productive a play was, observe common faults, determine a better way to run the play," Knox said. "In effect, we're evaluating our coaching."
It's difficult to dispute success, but a few critics out here have chided Knox for his offense, which was extremely conservative until quarter back Pat Haden began scrambling things.
"The only thing dull in football is losing," Knox said. "The thing that empties out the stands quickest is losing. Sometimes when people can't find anything else to pick on, they just keep looking, and I think that's the case here.
"To me a conservative offense is one in which you take no chances whatsoever. You run the ball 65 times, play defense and hope the other guy beats himself. We've always taken calculated risks. You take what the defense gives you. Defenses can't stop everything you can theoretically do on every down. They have to weaken some places if they want to strengthen others. You've got to watch what's going on and take what they give you."
There is no detail too small for Knox's notice, whether he's telling a player to take off his hat in a chow line because there's a rule against it or he's showing someone how to begin his block by stepping off on the other foot.
"In professional football, a consistent winning team is one that does the little things well," Knox said. "I mean basics like hanging onto the football, avoiding the needless penalty, avoiding blocked kicks, covering kickoffs properly, emphasizing the proper foot to step with, knowing when to utilize the fair catch.
Everybody talks about well-designed plays and whether to pass on second and one and such irrelevant things as the Super Bowl. But consistent winners think about other things. They want to make sure nobody jumps offside on a crucial down.
"Concentration is the key. Everyday, we have concentration drills at the end of practice, when the players are tired and it's harder to concentrate. Football is an emotional game, but it's how you prepare during the week that tells how you will play. Everything you do has to be planned. You have to do things over and over.
"The secret to avoiding mistakes is repetition in practice. The most repetition you get, the more proficient you get. Mistakes kill you, so we try to practice to eliminate mistakes. We have a saying here that practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
"But while we want to be consistent, we don't want our players to lose some of their freedom on the field. You can make players too cautious. If you have a playee with a nose for the football, let him go. Too many times we get so carried away about not making a mistake that we destroy the individual's ability to make the big play."
Knox had called the Rams' plays for four years, but young Haden now handles that assignment himself.
Since his high school days in Sewickley, Pa., Knox's aim in life had been to become a head football coach. But except for three years at Ellwood City (Pa.) High, Knox, now 45, was an assistant until the day in January 1973, when Carroll Rosenbloom hired him to guide the Rams.
Knox served at Juniata, his alma mater with Wake Forest, Kentucky, the New York Jets and Detroit, Oddly, he was fired along with head coach Joe Schmidt's entire staff in Detroit shortly before the Rams called.
"I never got discouraged being an assistant," Knox said. "I always did the best job I could, hoping in time a head job would come. It wasn't something I was always working at. Some people just think of getting ahead and let it detract from what they're doing. I feel if you do the best job possible where you are, the rest will take care of itself."
Knox absorbed knowledge from the head coaches for whom he labored.
Blanton Collier at Kentucky, "concentrated on little details taht win football games and he was a great analyzer of film." Weeb Ewbank, with the Jets, "had a great eye for personnel, finding the right kind of player for a position he had to fill." Schmidt gave Knox a "perspective from a former professional football player's point of view and he showed a lot of toughness."
Still, Knox is his own man.
"You can borrow from other coaches, but you can't imitate," Knox said. "Players recognize this very quickly. You have to be yourself in everything you do. Players always spot a phoay."
Knox has a penchant for cliches, but he is by no means a phony.
"I often talk in cliches," he acknowledged. "But they're things I believe in. I think our whole staff believes in them. We have a staff that works as hard as any in the business, but we don't advertise it."
A 54-14-1 record and five straight NFC West championships speak for themselves.