Monday, September 26, 2011

Legendary Boise State Coach Tony Knap Passes Away At 96

Tony Knap, one of the greatest coaches in Boise State football history and one of the outstanding people as well, passed away yesterday at the age of 96.  

 If Lyle Smith was the father of Boise State football, Tony Knap certainly took it to the next level.  In fact, it was Smith who hired Knap to succeed him when he became athletic director in 1968.  I didn't play football for Tony Knap, but it's obvious that he was a great guy to play for.  You could tell it amongst the players--they were motivated to play for him and enjoyed their experience immensely.  Knap molded young college students into outstanding men.  Knap was the one who dipped into the fertile recruiting ground of California, who started getting great players from Canada, and who recruited so many great Samoan players to Boise State.  

Knap set the stage for Bronco football of today, providing an entertaining, prolific offense and a tough, stingy defense.  His teams were exciting.  Like today, the early Boise State teams were well-coached and rarely made mistakes.  His teams became known as the "Cardiac Kids" because they would often pull games out at the last minute.  It was Knap that one day stood up at the podium for a BAA luncheon and proclaimed to a stunned crowd of boosters that Boise State would one day be a football power ("not just in a smaller division but a major football power").  

Boise State had just become a four-year school and Boise State College when Knap took over.  It would soon become Boise State University.  Just as what has occurred since every step along the way, Knap and the Broncos didn't miss a beat when competing at a new level.  He guided them to an 8-2 record in 1968, then a 9-1 mark in 1969.  

Boise State joined the Big Sky Conference in 1970 and to mark the occasion, a new 14,000-seat stadium.  Tthe Broncos were 2-2 in conference and 8-3 overall in their initial season in the league.  In their second season, Knap guided Boise State to a 10-2 record and their first Big Sky championship and earned Big Sky Coach of the Year honors.  Included in that mark was a season opening 42-14 rout of Division I Idaho.  At the end of the season Boise State was selected to play in the Camellia Bowl Game in Sacramento, California against Chico State.  Although the Broncos won on the field 32-28, they had to relinquish the trophy because quarterback Eric Guthrie had played one game of professional baseball--that wasn't allowed at the time.  Guthrie had twice denied to Boise State that he had played a pro game but eventually sent the school an apology and statement that he had in fact played one game.

The team lost a lot of great players and slipped to 7-4 the following year.  All Knap did after that was win the next three Big Sky championships and four of the next five.  In 1973, Knap led his team to a 10-3 mark and perfect 6-0 record in the Big Sky, and earned his second Coach of the Year award.  The Broncos crushed South Dakota 53-10 in the Division II Quarterfinals before a heartbreaking 38-34 loss to Louisiana Tech in the Semi-Finals ended their season.

Boise State posted another perfect 6-0 record in the Big Sky in 1974 and a 5-0-1 mark the following year, once again qualifying for the Division II national playoffs each season.  Boise State was 10-2 in 1974 and 9-2-1 in Knap's final season at Boise State.

He left Boise with tremendous memories and great success.  In eight seasons, Knap compiled a record of 71-19-1 for a winning percentage of 78.6%.  He is behind only current Bronco coach Chris Petersen (64-5, 92.8%) and his predecessor, Dan Hawkins (53-11 for 82.8%) in winning percentage at Boise State.  

While at Boise State, Knap produced 25 All-Big Sky Conference selections, two Offensive Most Valuable Players (quarterback Jim McMillan in 1974 and running back John Smith in 1975) and 20 All-America selections.  

Four players coached by Knap (linebacker Steve Vogel, wide receiver Don Hutt, offensive tackle Al Davis and quarterback Jim McMillan) played on college all-star games.  Twelve of Knap's players (Vogel, defensive end Faddie Tillman, quarterbacks Eric Guthrie and McMillan, Davis, running back  Smith, defensive back Rolly Woolsey, defensive tackle Ron Franklin, wide receiver Don Hutt, defensive back Jim Meeks, linebacker Gary Gorrell and guard Dan Dixon) were drafted in the National Football League.  Smith was a third round choice and Woolsey went on to become the first former Bronco to win a Super Bowl ring (with the Dallas Cowboys).  Three players (defensive end Gordon Stewart, guard Brian Spoatyk and wide receiver Al Marshall) played in the Canadian Football League.

In 1976, Knap accepted the head coaching job at Nevada-Las Vegas.  Knap produced a record of 47-20-2 at Las Vegas, stepping down after the 1981 season at age 67.  The Rebels made the Division II playoffs in his first season and became a Division I-A school in 1978. 

The son of Polish immigrants, Knap was born December 8, 1914 to John Anthony Knap and Angeline Sczajna in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Tony graduated from Riverside High School in Milwaukee in 1933 and earned three football letters at the University of Idaho, where he was a starter.  It was there that Knap met Lyle Smith, who was a teammate and would later hire him as Boise State's football coach.

Knap was a lieutenant in the United States Navy in World War II.  Following the war, he coached for seven years at Bonners Ferry High School.  In 1941, Knap married the former Adelle McFarland on April 5 in Bonners Ferry.  The couple had three daughters:  Jaki, Angie and Caroline while living in Bonners Ferry.  Tony then became an assistant to Coach "Pappy" Waldorf at the University of California.  From there, Knap coached football and baseball and served as athletic director in Pittsburg, California.  In those ten years, his football teams lost just three league games.

In 1963, Knap became an assistant for Utah State.  After John Ralston left for Stanford, Knap was promoted to head coach that season and guided the Aggies to a record of 9-1.  For his efforts, Knap was named Rocky Mountain Coach of the Year.  Knap's teams were 26-12 in Logan.  Knap then was an assistant for the Vancouver, British Columbia Lions in the CFL before taking the position at Boise State.

Knap and his wife retired to Walla, Walla, Washington and then moved to Bishop's Place retirement home in Pullman to be close to their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

 Knap was inducted into the Bronco Hall of Fame in 1982 and the UNLV Hall of Fame in 1989.  In 1993, Knap was chosen by Boise State fans to be the head coach of "The Dream Team" in a vote to mark the 25th anniversary of Boise State as a four-year school.  One of Tony's greatest thrills was when Merlin Olsen, a former player for Knap at Utah State, asked him to give an introduction speech for Olsen when he was elected to the National Football League Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.  .Knap is also a member of the Pittsburg High School Hall of Fame and the southern Nevada Hall of Fame. In other words, everyone who knew him was honored.

In 1970, a young boy and his mother and father were eating donuts at a small Winchell's place at the corner of State Street and 13th in Boise, Idaho.  Knap and the family were the only ones in the place.  When the boy realized who else was in the room, he couldn't believe it was none other than Tony Knap.  The Dad realized that the boy wasn't going to say anything, so he spoke to Coach Knap.  Just like an ordinary guy and not the larger-than-life figure that the boy thought of him, Knap came over and asked the boy what he thought of the game the night before.  It was a brief but important discussion and one that the boy will never forget.  I know because the young boy was me.  

We will always miss Tony Knap, his incredible enthusiasm and class, and his great smile.  We love ya, Coach!

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