“He was a guy who just commanded respect, and you gave it to him,” Steve Largent said of Chuck Knox, above. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Chuck Knox, the first NFL coach to win a division title with three different teams, has died at age 86. The Seattle Seahawks, whom he led to their first playoff appearances and first berth in a conference title game, made the announcement Sunday, calling the former coach “one of the great influencers not only in football, but in life.”

Knox also coached the Los Angeles Rams, in two separate stints, and the Buffalo Bills, compiling an overall record of 186-147-1, plus 7-11 in the playoffs, over 22 seasons from 1973 through 1994. His 186 wins are 10th-most all-time in the NFL, and he won Associated Press coach of the year honors with each of the three franchises.

A native of the Pittsburgh suburb of Sewickley, Pa., Knox began his NFL career as an assistant with the New York Jets and Detroit Lions before getting his first head coaching job with the Rams. He immediately reeled off five straight seasons with 10-plus wins, including three consecutive berths in the NFC championship game from 1974 to 1976, then left to join the Bills.

“He established a winning culture and a legacy that will never be forgotten, being the only coach to lead the Rams to five consecutive double-digit-win seasons,” the Rams said of Knox in a statement. “The memories and accomplishments that Coach Knox left behind will continue to inspire us and Rams fans. We hold his family in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

Knox spent another five seasons in Buffalo, going 37-36 but ending up in a contract dispute with owner Ralph Wilson that led to his departure for Seattle. That was the site of his longest stint, nine years with the Seahawks that produced 80 wins, plus three more in four trips to the playoffs, and the first taste of sustained success for a franchise that had originated in 1976.

“The Seahawks family is saddened by the loss of Chuck Knox, and our deepest sympathies are extended to his wife, Shirley, and the entire Knox family,” the team said in a statement Sunday. “A member of the Seahawks Ring of Honor, Knox coached the Seahawks from 1983-1991 and was a beloved figurehead by players, coaches and staff. His presence projected an external toughness, but merited instantaneous respect by the genuine care and concern he held for his players.”

The Seahawls also noted Knox’s nickname, “Ground Chuck,” a reference to his devotion to the running game and a hard-nosed approach to the sport. His teams, including three more years with the Rams from 1992 to 1994, finished in the top 13 in rushing offense 13 times, and they were in the top 12 in total defense 12 times.

“He was successful everywhere he went for a long, long period of time,” former Seattle wide receiver Steve Largent, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said of Knox (via seahawks.com). “I really enjoyed playing for him.

“He was a guy who just commanded respect, and you gave it to him. But at the same time, he really was a players’ coach,” Largent continued. “He was a guy who appreciated the guys who played for him and he really went out of his way to accommodate players, whether that was through certain plays he would call or through the practice schedule or whatever. He was a real players’ coach, and you can’t say that about every head coach in the National Football League, but you could definitely say it about Chuck Knox.”

Knox’s no-nonsense style was also reflected in his penchant for aphorisms such as, “Play the hand you’re dealt,” “Don’t tell me how rough the water is, just bring the ship in,” and, “What you do speaks so well, no need to hear what you say.”

“He had a conversation with me when my play was slumping one time, it was the night before a game, he said, ‘Look, you need to change the way you’re playing and play better, or else you’re going to be standing next to me.’ It doesn’t get more direct than that, and it was message delivered, and it helped me,” former Seahawks linebacker Dave Wyman said. “It was one of those things at the time that you don’t like, but I needed to hear it. That kind of coaching helped me become a better player.”

According to the Seahawks, Knox spent the past few years battling dementia, and he was in hospice care when he died. He is survived by his wife, Shirley, his three children and six grandchildren.

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