I first saw Coach Knap in the fall of 1968 at Municipal Park a block or so from my home. It was my first year in Boise, Boise State's first year as a college, and his first year as its head football coach. Not a tall man, but prepossessing nonetheless; a full head of snow white hair that contrasted with his deep tan, handsome, manly, even his glasses accentuated his vitality somehow. When I first saw the Reverend Schuller of "Hour of Power" I thought he was a dead ringer for Coach Knap and both had near overwhelming charisma. We had just lost to Weber State 44-3, and he was speaking to a rally of supporters in the park. I can't remember his words 43 years later, but listening to him you forgot about the loss and got carried away by his enthusiasm for the upcoming game against Eastern Washington. Defeat was not a stranger, but Coach Knap never let it be a guest, and his animating energy allowed him to "move on" and take you with him. Just being around him made you feel more alive, aware, open to possibilities.
"Open to possibilities"; Coach Knap brought that to Boise State, and then some. Before Lavell Edwards, Coach Knap was a passing game coach extraordinaire back when "3 yards and a cloud of dust" ruled the day/night/weekend/holidays. He found good QBs and receivers, the biggest,quickest linemen he could coax here, and schemed up plays, variations of plays, inversions of the variations, and decoy versions of the inversions of the variations in case he had a particularly adept D-coordinator playing him that week. He recruited in Hawaii and American Somoa (I didn't know there was a Somoa, let alone an American version of it) well before anyone else, including BYU.Bronco games were always a kick,and most often the offense was explosive and dynamic.Hook and laterals, reverses on kickoffs (best one I ever saw was in our first post season game at Bronco Stadium as a college against Univ. of South Dakota)-I can't say our gadgets ALWAYS worked, but I'll say this:Coach Knap ALWAYS called them at the perfect time. I'm stretching my mind here,but I honestly do not recall a team he coached here not being emotionally up for a game. Not saying they always won, but Everret Carr's take on our demolishing at the hands of Utah State in '75 was emblematic:"That game was the most FUN!!"
But I don't want to give the impression that Coach Knap didn't take football or, for that matter, competition seriously-he did, very much.My only other time in his immediate presence was in the TV lounge at the Student Union building in '73 the week after we beat South Dakota 53-10, and it wasn't even that close. Coach and his staff had eaten in the dining hall, and they came in to relax and watch the football game I was watching.They were exchanging technical remarks about the game,and I congratulated Coach on the victory, adding, "I felt sorry for those Coyotes." He looked at me (he was sitting next to me) levelly, and very very coldly remarked "I did not-they thought they were going to whoop us."He made it quite obvious that he relished the shellacking his team had meted out, and I sensed that raw animal emotion-vengeance, a dash of cruelty perhaps-was a necessary ingredient to the performance of his job.
I'll confess I felt a certain betrayal when he left us in '76 to coach at UNLV. I guess it's the tradition at all (successful) college football programs-we love our coaches when they're here, hate them when they leave.I was in the stands when he returned with the UNLV team in '77, and I joined in the crowd chant (taunt) as they game ended in our 45-14 rout: "Welcome home Tony WELCOME HOME!!!" It went on for quite a while: I was on the opposite side of the field and so could not see his reaction as this registered, but I doubt he had one.He would have done all he could to prepare his team and at this point would have his post game speech lined out, anticipating the challenge of getting his team ready for the following week.
Coach Knap was 96 when he died, and I understand had severe cognitive limitations in his last years. But I know that most of the years preceding that were active ones, that he remained engaged, alert and responsive. It would be presumptuous of me to add too much here,since I didn't know him personally.So, attorney like, I'll let the record speak for itself. You don't live 96 years without an effective strategy for coping with life. You have to be a remarkable man to leave your mark on an institution such that it's felt over 40 years later. I only glimpsed him, briefly, decades ago, but I'll say of him what I have said of very few others:"He was a man such as God meant men to be." R I P Coach Tony Knap