2007 Crowley Award Winner
Bob Knight, Portage Central
By Larry Sellers, Crowley Award Chair
“Have fun, play hard, be dedicated to doing your very best;” These were the challenges put forth to his athletes by the late Jim Crowley, in whose memory the MHSFCA presents this award. Coach Crowley guided the football fortunes of Jackson St. John, which eventually became part of merging several small Catholic schools into Jackson Luman Christi High School in the 1960’s. Coach Crowley led his Titan football teams to state titles in 1977 and 1979, and then was tragically shot to death in his own driveway during a robbery in January of 1980 at the age of 45. As is our 2007 recipient, Coach Crowley was a dedicated family man and committed not only to his family, church, team, and school but also to making his community a better place in which to live.
Bob Knight was born on November 16, 1940 in Hamilton, Alabama, the third of four boys in his family. When he was in high school, the family moved to Adrian, Michigan and he enrolled in Adrian high school where he played football, basketball and ran track, graduating in 1959. He was recruited and signed by the University of Wyoming to a scholarship which could be used for football or basketball. After playing both sports during his freshman year, he chose to give up basketball to concentrate on football. Although he was recruited as a running back, he was moved to tight end and eventually made all conference. During his time at Wyoming he married his high school sweetheart Nonie (April 1. 1961). Upon his graduation in the spring of 1963 he was made a graduate assistant and coached the freshman football team to a 4-0 record in the fall of 1963. He completed his master’s degree in 1964.
Bob began his high school teaching and coaching career at Muskegon High School in 1964. While teaching science, physical and health education from 1964-1971 he was a varsity assistant to Roger Chiaverini, a great Michigan high school coach who was the 1991 recipient of the Crowley Award. Bob learned a great deal under “Chev’s” tutelage and took most of what he learned in Muskegon with him when the chance came to become a head coach himself. While at Muskegon Bob began the wrestling program at the school. In the spring of 1971 and with coach Chiaverini firmly entrenched with a very successful program at Muskegon, an opportunity arose that Bob could not ignore. He applied for and was offered the head coaching job at Portage Central High School. That summer he prepared for his new job as a physical education teacher and the new head football coach of the Mustangs of Portage Central High School.
For 34 years (1971-2004) Bob was the head football coach at Portage Central, posting a 217-108 won-loss record, 14 conference championships, 10 playoff runs, including the state championship game in 1977 where the Mustangs lost a tough game to Birmingham Brother Rice. During his time at Portage Central he was the head track coach for 5 years and the assistant for 10 years.
Bob has also served the MHSFCA well. He was a director for 8 years, served on the All Star Committee and as an officer of our organization (President in 1992). In 1988 he was selected to the MHSFCA Hall of Fame and that summer, as head coach of the West All Stars, coached his team to victory over the East All Stars.
Much like Coach Crowley our 2007 recipient was a great coach, motivator, role model, and father figure to his players. He taught them to prioritize their lives in this order; religion, family, school, football, girls and other things such as cars. He expected a great deal from his coaches and players; he passed on to his assistants (some of whom went on to establish their own successful programs) to “love the battle” (the game) and to prepare all week long to be ready. He loved the physical aspects of the game of football and his teams were known for their toughness regardless of their size or natural ability.
Coach Knight was all about details, whether it was in breaking down film, game planning, practice schedule, etc.; and he also was a great supporter of the other programs in the school. He had to change some attitudes when he got to Portage Central but he persevered and the results were pretty special. Nonie, his wife of 45 years and children Phil, Carolyn, David, Daniel and Kristina are rightfully very proud of what their husband arid father has given to the young men of the city of Portage and to the MHSFCA.