When Ed Tapscott resigned as American University basketball coach last April, Chris Knoche was such an obvious choice to become his successor that he was the only candidate and Athletic Director Joseph O'Donnell said, "We didn't even interview him."

They didn't have to. Since 1978, Knoche (pronounced NOCK-ey) had spent all but one year at American. He had been a player. He had been an assistant coach. He had been the associate coach. And as Tapscott said this week, "The last time they went with a guy who had been at the university, it worked out pretty well for them."

That was in 1982, when Gary Williams left for Boston College and American hired an assistant coach named Ed Tapscott. Of course, one of Tapscott's first acts as head coach was to hire Chris Knoche.

They had arrived at American within a month of each other -- Tapscott as a graduate assistant, Knoche as a transfer student from Colorado. They had what Knoche called "an instant rapport." They grew up in the Washington area -- Tapscott in the District, Knoche in Fairfax -- and they were interested in politics. With American making bus trips to schools like Lafayette, Lehigh and Bucknell, they also had plenty of time to talk.

"While other people were sleeping, playing cards or doing homework, we would sit there and engage in political discussions," Tapscott said. "I came to respect him as a person, to respect his intelligence. And as a coach I came to respect his knowledge of the game. . . . When an entry level coaching position opened up, he was immediately the front-runner for that position."

Yet, as was the case just before Tapscott became the Eagles' head coach, Knoche was coming close to switching professions when the head coach's office suddenly became vacant. In Tapscott's case, it was a matter of having earned a law degree and thinking it was just about time to make some real money and get what he always laughingly referred to as a "real job" -- something he has done by becoming a client manager/attorney for the Washington-based sports management and marketing firm Advantage International. With Knoche, the issue was whether he would ever get his chance and how long it was worth waiting for.

"As much as I love AU, I don't think I would have stayed a whole lot longer if Eddie hadn't left," said Knoche, who at 32 is the youngest coach in the Colonial Athletic Association. "I love coaching, but it's not the be-all and end-all. At some point in this business you have to decide. I didn't want to be a 15- or 20-year assistant coach."

Knoche completed his playing career at American in 1981, after becoming the first graduate student to play for the Eagles. "I talked to Gary about becoming a graduate assistant, but I also felt like I wanted to make some money," Knoche recalled with a chuckle.

So he took a job with a marketing company in Glen Burnie, Md., but continued writing to coaches at other schools while contemplating the thought of becoming a part-time or volunteer assistant coach. All of that came to an unexpectedly quick, but extremely welcome, halt when Tapscott took over for Williams.

"I was hired by a good friend to be a full-time coach at my alma mater," Knoche said. "I don't know if that's clean living, self-denial or what. But it's worked out tremendously."

Fortune always seems to have smiled on Knoche but it's been a rather strange grin. He and his twin, Jeff, are the youngest of five boys born to E. Henry "Hank" and Angie Knoche. After serving in the military, Hank played two years of college basketball and in 1947 was the first player selected in the NBA's first college draft. But he never played in the then-fledgling league. The club that selected him, the Pittsburgh Ironmen, folded shortly after the draft, and his rights were sold to the New York Knicks. He chose not to play in an uncertain situation for little money and was recalled to the military, where he embarked on a career that led to a job with the Central Intelligence Agency.

So instead of having a father who was a celebrity, Chris had a father who could tell him virtually nothing about what he did for a living. The celebrity part changed a little bit in April 1976 when President Gerald Ford named Hank Knoche to become the CIA's deputy director under George Bush. He later served as acting director for several months under President Jimmy Carter before returning to the deputy director's post, from which he retired in July 1977.

It was during those years that Chris's basketball career began moving toward AU. A two-time first-team all-Northern Region player at W.T. Woodson High School, he was modestly recruited and decided to attend Colorado. But before the beginning of his freshman year, Colorado fired the coach who had recruited him and hired Bill Blair, now a Washington Bullets assistant coach. Knoche said he was promptly informed he was not capable of playing Big Eight Conference basketball. Intent upon "enjoying myself at the place I wanted to go all along and proving him {Blair} wrong," Knoche made the Buffaloes as a freshman walk-on.

An excellent jumpshooter, he earned playing time and even several starts. About midway through the season, however, he tore ligaments in his ankle. The following fall, Knoche said, Blair "had open scholarships, but decided he wouldn't spend one on me." Knoche remained in Boulder for his sophomore year, but decided intramural basketball wasn't enough.

At home for the summer of 1978, he was playing in a pickup game at George Mason when he met Williams, who recently had been named American's head coach. Shortly thereafter, Knoche became Williams's first signee.

In his first start after sitting out two seasons (he missed one at American because he had transferred), he had 22 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists against St. Mary's. But that was about the high-water mark for his playing career. Nevertheless, Knoche spent a lot of time in Williams's office campaigning for playing time and "learning a lot about sacrifice and the things that make you a good player."

He remembered those lessons, and as his time under Tapscott went on, his reponsibilities grew and grew. He directed American's recruiting efforts, but Tapscott said "he wasn't just the recruiting guy. We discussed strategy, we discussed practice, how to structure practice. We discussed educational and academic issues. We discussed team discipline issues. Chris came to share in every part of the program."

Now the program is his.