'The first time he lined up on my nose I looked down at his arm and it seemed as big as my leg," Iman said after the game. "He's big all over. And quick. And strong. He'll be a good one."
The operative words are "will be." The Rams are good in the present tense—now. One indication of a good team, a disciplined team, is the avoidance of penalties. Against the Oilers, Los Angeles was penalized only three times for 14 yards (compared to Houston's six for 78), and one was an infraction it invited in order to get a better field-goal angle. A team escapes penalties when it concentrates on execution. And concentration is a fetish with Chuck Knox.
The acquisition of Knox was the most significant move made by Ram owner Carroll Rosenbloom in his rebuilding program. "We had to go with what was on hand the first year," says Rosen-bloom, who took over the club in 1972. "That was a year of evaluation, of discovery."
And of woe. The Rams finished third in the NFC West with a 6-7-1 record, and the first man to go was the easygoing head coach, Tommy Prothro. After he left, Rosenbloom and General Manager Don Klosterman interviewed a dozen hopefuls. Knox was one of three finalists.
"We had him out to Los Angeles three or four times," says Rosenbloom. "Finally, about two o'clock one morning he was in my home in Bel Air. Klosterman and I had been talking to him for a long time, and there were two more coaches waiting in hotels. I asked Knox if he thought he could win in the NFL. I don't think,' he said. 'I know.' So I shook hands with him and said, 'You're my coach.' "
In a sport in which only 22 of 47 players can be starters, it usually is not difficult to find malcontents, but this does not hold for the Rams. One team official, who has been with Los Angeles through four coaching regimes, says, "This is the happiest club we've had. Even after we lost three and tied one in preseason, the players were confident. They weren't complaining the way they would have been a year before. They were sure they were on the right track."
Knox had been an assistant coach for 14 years, coming to the Rams after six seasons with Detroit. His ability to inspire confidence stems from a concern for and an understanding of his players and a remarkable teaching talent.
"Teaching is the ability to inspire learning," he said one day last week in his office, which is situated over the pro shop of a Long Beach municipal golf course. "I guess I got that—and most of my coaching philosophy—from Blanton Collier when I was an assistant at Kentucky. He was the best teacher and the most patient man I have ever known. Sometimes I'd be ready to give up on a kid and we'd talk it over and he would suggest another approach to get through to the boy, and we'd keep at it until we succeeded.
"Communication is the key. You reduce an action to its simplest components, then hammer and hammer at it with repetition. I remember we once had a guard at Kentucky who was a fine blocker on initial contact, but who wouldn't stay with his man after he had hit. So we drummed 'hit and stick!' into him for a long time. Then we decided we didn't have to say 'hit!' because he would do that anyway. So we made him think 'stick, stick, stick' before every play and he turned into a fine blocker."
Knox got up from his desk and demonstrated a golf swing. "It's inductive reasoning," he said. "Say you learn five parts of a golf swing, one at a time. You can't think of all five of them at once, but after you have repeated the swing over and over you reach the point where you can get up on the tee and think of one part of the swing and your mind will subconsciously direct your body to put the other four into effect."