The Story Of A Bronco Legend
Legendary Bronco coach Tony Knap
Legendary Bronco coach Tony Knap
BroncoCountry Senior Editor
Posted Aug 16, 2009


He posted a career record of 71-19-1 in eight seasons as head coach for Boise State. He led the transition from a junior college power to a Division II power. He never had a losing season. His smile, his friendly demeanor and his exciting brand of football endeared him to hundreds of young men and thousands of Bronco football fans. This is the story of a Bronco legend--the great Tony Knap!

Tony Knap is in the Boise State Athletic Hall of Fame, The Southern Nevada Athletic Hall of Fame and the Pittsburg High School Hall of Fame.

Tony Joseph Knap was born December 8, 1914 to John Anthony Knap and Angeline Sczajna, recent Polish immigrants.  He was the second child out of five children.  He had an older sister and three younger brothers.  Tony was raised in Milwaukee , Wisconsin and graduated from high school in Milwaukee in 1933.  Tony decided to go west and went to the University of Idaho , where he was a starter on the Vandal football team.  While in Moscow , Tony met and befriended a local boy, Lyle Smith who also was a player on the Vandal football team.

Tony graduated from the University of Idaho in the spring of 1939.  He began his football coaching career in the fall of 1939 as the Bonners Ferry High School football coach in Bonners Ferry, Idaho .  He married Doris Adelle McFarland on April 5, 19 41 in Bonners Ferry, Idaho .  They had three daughters, Jaki, Angie and Caroline while living in Bonners Ferry.

Tony remained as the Bonners Ferry High School football coach for nearly 20 years, before he moved to Pittsburg , California where he was the Pittsburg High School Football coach and Athletic Director until he joined the coaching staff at Utah State in 1959.

When Utah State Head Coach John Ralston left at the end of the 1962 season to become the new coach at Stanford, Coach Knap was promoted to Head Coach. Coach Knap went 8-2 in his first season at Utah State and was named Rocky Mountain Coach of the Year.  In four seasons as Utah State ’s Head football Coach, Tony’s teams compiled a 25-24-1 record.  Tony resigned as head coach on January 18, 1967 to take a coaching position with the British Columbia Lions.  Tony only stayed in Canada for one year before heading south to become a legend of Boise State football history.

At the end of the 1967 Boise Junior College football season, Lyle Smith stepped down as the head football coach to assume fulltime duties as the Athletic Director.  The 1967 Bronco football team just finished a 6-4 campaign which was the worst season for the young Broncos since Lyle Smith assumed the head coaching duties in 1947.  It was the last season that Boise College would compete at the junior college level.  Starting in the fall of 1968, the new college would play college sports as a four-year school. 

Lyle Smith needed someone to take the very successful junior college football program and turn it into a successful college football team.  In 21 years as the head football coach, Lyle Smith’s teams won their conference championship 16 times and his overall record was 158-25-6 for a winning percentage of 76%. The fans in the small town of Boise were used to watching winning football teams and Lyle had to pick the right man to make the transition from junior college to college football.

That man was his longtime friend and fellow University of Idaho football alum Tony Knap. On September 21, 1968, Boise College played Linfield College from Oregon in their first game as a four-year college.  The Broncos were basically the same team that finished the previous season as a junior college with a 6-4-1 record.  Hal Zimmerman was their quarterback and he led a team that had no seniors against the strong NAIA Linfield team.  The very young Broncos lost the game at Bronco Stadium 21 to 7.  The offense struggled and many fans were concerned that the Broncos would have a losing season in their first year as a four year school.  Did Lyle Smith make the right choice for his replacement?

Coach Knap went on to win eight games against two losses in his inaugural season as the Bronco coach including a big win over in-state rival Idaho State.  The Bengals had a decent team featuring quarterback Jerry Dunne and future National Football League star wide receiver Ed “The Flea” Bell .  The heavily favored Bengals fell to the Broncos in the Boise State Homecoming game 27 to 20. 

The next season, the1969 Broncos lost their homecoming game to Northern Colorado 16 to 10 which cost the Broncos an undefeated season.  The Broncos defeated Idaho State 35 to 27 for their second win over the Bengals.  For some reason, the Bengals played their first two games against Boise State in Boise . This season would mark the second and final season of NAIA football for Boise State College.

The 1970 Bronco football team played their first season in the Big Sky Conference as an NCAA Division II team.  Only three games were against Big Sky Conference teams as they worked their way into a full schedule of Big Sky games.  The Broncos finished the season with eight wins and three losses and a 2 – 2 Big Sky Conference record.  Their loss to Long Beach State counted as a conference loss.  Coach Knap was stricken with paralysis caused by the Herpes Zoster virus, so he coached most of the 1970 season from a wheelchair.  The Bengals were favored to beat the Broncos in Pocatello in 1970.  Idaho State had already beaten the University of Idaho and Weber State College handily.  During the pregame warm-ups, Coach Knap was wheeled to the field and stood up from his wheel chair and walked.  This action really fired up his players and Boise State kept their winning ways over the Bengals, winning the game 24 to 3 .

History was made in the first game of the 1971 season, the first season that the Broncos would play all their Big Sky Conference mates, starting with the University of Idaho .  The Vandals were heavy favorites, but did not stand a chance against the fired-up Broncos.  Boise State crushed Idaho 42 to 14 to start their rivalry.  The Vandals did not expect the all-out passing game that the Broncos threw at them.  Eric Guthrie threw for nearly 300 yards against the vaunted Vandal defense.  This game started the passing era of Bronco football where the Broncos would pass first to set up the rushing game.

The Broncos were in the driver’s seat to win their first Big Sky Conference title, but a loss to the Idaho State Bengals would give the title to the Vandals.  However, the Broncos second place finish would be rewarded with a trip to their first bowl game where they would start their history of big comebacks in bowl games.  Down 24 to 7 going into the fourth quarter against Chico State in the Camellia Bowl, Eric Guthrie, dubbed the “Canadian Rifle”, would pass the Broncos to a 32 to 28 win on national television.  The Broncos overall record in 1970 was 10-2, the first time in history that a Bronco team won 10 games in a season.

The 1972 season was a down season for the Broncos.  After Guthrie moved on to the Canadian Football league, Ron Autele assumed the quarterback role. They lost games to Idaho , Cal Poly SLO, and both Montana schools.  The bright spot was that the Broncos finally beat Weber State after losing their first three encounters.  The Broncos finally won back the Wooden Indian Head, the traveling trophy between the two schools.  Boise State played a new school, UNLV for the first time.  The University of Nevada , Las Vegas (UNLV) started a football program in 1968, the first year that Boise State started playing as a four-year college football program.  The Broncos finished the season with a 7 – 4 record.

The 1973 season would start a new era of Bronco football…the Championship Era.  The Broncos new quarterback came from little Vallivue High School , a small country school near Caldwell , Idaho .  Jim McMillan led the Broncos to back-to-back undefeated conference records and Big Sky Conference Championships.  Coach Knap’s passing offense would really start to dominate with Jim McMillan passing to receivers Terry Hutt, Mike “Motor Mouse” Holton, John Crabtree and John Smith out of the backfield.  Running back John Smith had more receiving yards than rushing yards in 1973.

The Broncos lost two non-conference games in 1973 during the regular season, both games in the state of Nevada against UNLV and UNR.  As Big Sky Conference Champions, the Broncos had an automatic bid to the new Division II National Championship playoffs.  Hosting the second-ranked South Dakota State team in the first round, the Broncos dominated the Coyotes, beating the Joe Salem-coached team 53 to 10.  The Broncos went on to play future Western Athletic Conference foe Louisiana Tech in the Pioneer Bowl.  The Broncos jumped out to a 17 to 0 lead, but could not hold on and lost 38-34.  Louisiana Tech would become the NCAA Division II National Champions the next week, beating Western Kentucky 34 to 0 in the Camellia Bowl.  The Broncos finished the season with 10 wins and 3 losses.

The 1974 season would be Jim McMillan’s senior season.  McMillan was a Kodak All-American and broke most of the school’s single-season passing records his final year.  The Broncos would again win all their Big Sky Conference games.  They lost only one game in the regular season, a 37-35 defeat at the hands of UNLV.  The Ron Meyer-coached Rebels finished the regular season undefeated and did not lose a game till the second round of the Division II playoffs.  The Broncos traveled to Mt. Pleasant , Michigan for their playoff game against Central Michigan .  The Broncos lost 20 to 7 to the eventual Division II National Champions.  It would mark the second year in a row that the Broncos lost to the team that would win the Division II National Champions.

The Broncos had a new quarterback in the 1975 season, Greg Stern, but the results were nearly the same with another Big Sky Championship and a trip to the Division II National Championship playoffs.  The difference this season was that the Broncos tied one game in the Big Sky.  The Broncos 31 to 31 tie with the Idaho Vandals in Moscow was the only blemish as they completed their third undefeated Big Sky Conference season.  The Broncos did, however, end their two-game losing streak to UNLV, beating the Rebels 34 to 21 in Boise .  Another early loss in the playoffs against the eventual National Champion Northern Michigan would be the final game of Coach Knap’s coaching career at Boise State .

After the 1975 season, there were rumors that Tony Knap would replace Ron Meyer as the new coach at UNLV.  Meyer left UNLV to coach Southern Methodist University.  Coach Knap told the Boise media that there was no way he would leave Boise to coach the rival to the south.   But in the end, Coach Knap left Boise for the bright city lights of Las Vegas .  He said the money was just too good to turn down.  The next time the Broncos would see Tony Knap on the sidelines, he would be wearing Rebel Red.

One of the big reasons that UNLV wanted Knap as the head coach was the success that Knap had upgrading a junior college team to a NCAA Division II power.  The Broncos had finished in the top 5 of the Division II polls three years in a row.  UNLV was making the jump from a NCAA Division II team to a NCAA Division I team.  They needed a coach that could take them to the next level and win at that level. 

Tony Knap’s first season at UNLV was very successful.  He won nine games and one of those wins would be a 31 to 26 win over the Broncos.  The Rebels would make it to the Division II playoffs where they lost to the Akron Zips.  The Zips would make it all the way to the Division II National Championship game, where they lost to the Big Sky’s Montana State Bobcats.

Tony Knap’s UNLV Runnin’ Rebels would play their final game in 1977 against Boise State in Bronco Stadium.  It was the final season for UNLV as a NCAA Division II school.  Starting in 1978, they would become a NCAA Division 1 independent.  The game marked the first time for most Bronco fans to see Coach Knap on the opposing sidelines.  The game was a sellout as the Bronco faithful wanted to beat UNLV to tie their series with three wins apiece and the fans wanted to prove that their new coach, Jim Criner, could beat a Tony Knap coached team.  The Broncos were fired up and cruised to a 45 to 14 win.  It would be the last time that Coach Knap would be on the sidelines at Bronco stadium.

Tony Knap would win 47 games as the head coach at UNLV, more than any other coach in school history.  His 70% winning percentage is second only to Ron Meyer.  Coach Knap would retire from coaching in 1981 at the age of 66.

Overall, Tony Knap coached 18 seasons, winning 143 games while losing 52 and tying four for a winning percentage of 72.9%.  One of his greatest thrills was when one of his former players, Merlin Olsen, asked Tony to do his introduction speech when he was inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame.

Tony retired to his home in Walla, Walla, Washington with his wife Doris “Mickey”. They have since moved to Bishop's Place in Pullman.  They have been married 68 years and live close to their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

One day in Boise, Coach Knap got up before stunned Bronco boosters and media and proclaimed that “ Boise State will one day be a major football power, not just at Division II but in all of college football.” 

How did he know that?

That…..is the story of a legend.



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