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
and graduated from high school in
in 1933. Tony decided to go west and
went to the
where he was a starter on the Vandal football team.
Tony met and befriended a local boy, Lyle Smith who also was a player on the
Vandal football team.
Tony graduated from the
in the spring of 1939. He began his
football coaching career in the fall of 1939 as the
football coach in
He married Doris Adelle McFarland on
They had three daughters, Jaki,
Angie and Caroline while living in Bonners Ferry.
Tony remained as the
football coach for
nearly 20 years, before he moved to
where he was the Pittsburg High School Football coach and Athletic Director
until he joined the coaching staff at
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
and was named Rocky Mountain Coach of the Year. In
four seasons as
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
for one year before heading south to become a legend of
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
would compete at the junior college level. Starting
in the fall of 1968, the new college would play college sports as a four-year
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
were used to watching winning football teams and
Lyle had to pick the right man to make the transition from junior college to
That man was his longtime
friend and fellow
football alum Tony Knap. On September 21, 1968, Boise College
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
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”
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
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
. 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
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
had already beaten the
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
kept their winning ways over the
Bengals, winning the game
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
Vandals were heavy favorites, but did not stand a chance against the fired-up
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.
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
going into the fourth quarter against
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.
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
, Cal Poly SLO, and both
The bright spot was that the Broncos finally beat
after losing their first three
encounters. The Broncos finally won
back the Wooden Indian Head, the traveling trophy between the two schools.
played a new school, UNLV for the first
, Las Vegas (UNLV) started a football
program in 1968, the first year that
started playing as a four-year college
football program. The Broncos
finished the season with a 7 – 4 record.
season would start a new era of Bronco football…the Championship Era.
The Broncos new quarterback came from little
, a small country school near
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.
lost two non-conference games in 1973 during the regular season, both games in
the state of
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
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
34 to 0 in the Camellia Bowl. The
Broncos finished the season with 10 wins and 3 losses.
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
for their playoff game against
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
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
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
early loss in the playoffs against the eventual National Champion Northern
Michigan would be the final game of Coach Knap’s coaching career at
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
media that there was no way he would leave
to coach the rival to the south.
But in the end, Coach Knap left
for the bright city lights of
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
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.
Knap’s UNLV Runnin’ Rebels would play their final game in 1977 against
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
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 “
will one day be a major football power, not just at Division II but in all of
How did he know that?
That…..is the story of a legend.