Matt Daniels: Knox gets job done
CHAMPAIGN — Tim Knox shares an office with Juice Williams.
Yet the casual Illinois football fan would have a hard time picking him out of a crowd.
Let alone know what Knox’s responsibilities are.
The Illinois director of football operations wears many job titles.
Like pouring salt on an icy stairway outside the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility in the winter. Making sure a flat tire on Tim Beckman’s car is fixed. Working on Bill Cubit’s watch so it’s not on military time. Getting a drill and a few screws to fix a door that won’t close properly inside the recruiting lounge at Memorial Stadium.
“Operations is so broad, and that’s why you can’t define what we do,” Knox said. “You’d have to follow around an ops guy for a week, and then you’d have to follow an ops guy around for a week during the season to see what it’s really like.”
Yes, the aforementioned tasks are a bit dull. But they only cover a fraction of what Knox, about to enter his third season with the Illini, does.
One of Knox’s main projects this offseason is prepping for the Illini’s trip to Washington for the nonconference game in Seattle on Sept. 13. Any time he hasn’t been inside a venue, Knox does some advance prep.
Hence why he traveled to Seattle last month. He spent two days touring the surrounding area and Husky Stadium, getting to know the ins and outs of the renovated stadium that sits on Lake Washington.
“I’d only seen pictures, and from everything you see, it’s just like they designed it exactly how you’d want to,” Knox said. “You drive across Lake Washington and you look to your right where the stadium is and you’re like, ‘Man, that’s cool.’ It’s just a gorgeous setting.”
Knox went on his fact-finding mission to Seattle for one reason. To bring back information to the Illinois coaches, players and staff.
“The next time I go, I’m going to have 180 people who have never been there looking at me to say, ‘How long is it going to take to get from the stadium? Once we get to the stadium, where’s our locker room? Which one is our sideline? Where’s the coaches’ box? How do I get up there?’ ” Knox said. “I take a bunch of pictures. It just helps them be more prepared because ultimately, at the end of the day, my job is to make it as seamless as possible. If I can have that information ahead of time and be able to relay it to them so that they feel comfortable, that’s my goal. They know if they ask me something, I’ll have the answer.”
One tidbit he dug up during his time at Husky Stadium is beneficial for the Illinois assistant coaches who will work from above the stadium in the coaches’ box.
There’s a bathroom inside the visiting coaches’ box at Husky Stadium.
“The coaches that are in the box during the game always want to know what the box setup is like,” Knox said, “and I had never seen that before.”
Up in the air
Knox contacted Stanford’s director of football operations, Matt Doyle, ahead of his trip to Seattle, knowing the Cardinal is a frequent visitor to Husky Stadium. Doyle told him where to stay (the Hyatt Regency in nearby Bellevue) and where to fly in (land at Boeing Field to avoid congestion at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport).
Knox isn’t just in charge of travel accommodations. Arranging postgame food is on his to-do list as well.
“On a trip like this where we don’t have anybody on the team from that area of the country, is there any food that’s unique to the area that we need to get because our kids wouldn’t experience it anywhere else,” Knox said. “That’s different than if we’re going to Michigan.”
Knox stands on the sidelines during games, but during road games, his mind is already thinking ahead to the travel involved in getting the team, coaches and staff back to Champaign. Illinois will fly to four of its five road games this season — it will bus to Northwestern for the regular season finale — and some of Knox’s most anxious moments depend on where the particular aircraft is during a trip. Two visiting teams to Champaign last year, Michigan State and Ohio State, had travel issues. On Friday, the Spartans’ charter plane landed late in East Lansing, prompting the Spartans to arrive two hours later than anticipated in Champaign. For the Buckeyes, they didn’t depart Champaign until about 8:30 p.m. Saturday, more than five hours after the game against the Illini ended, because their plane wasn’t at Willard Airport.
“The only time I’m not able to enjoy away games is if the aircraft doesn’t stay with us,” Knox said. “For an ops guy, the best thing that can happen is the Wednesday or Thursday before you leave, they tell you that, ‘Hey, the aircraft is just going to stay on the ground with you.’ It’s like Christmas.”
Landing at Illinois
Western Michigan is where Knox spent the first 15 seasons of his career after he played Division III football at Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio. Four were on the field as a role of graduate assistant and running backs coach, but the other 11 were in charge of football operations under Gary Darnell and Cubit. He wasn’t looking to leave Kalamazoo until his cellphone rang one day in May 2012 and a 217 area code popped up on the screen. Knox didn’t answer because he didn’t recognize the number, but it was Beckman calling to gauge his interest on coming to Illinois.
“He knows this football team and knows the ideas we want to get accomplished,” Beckman said. “Every player has as much respect (for him) as they do for any coach.”
Knox jumped on the chance to lead operations of a Big Ten program.
“I don’t wear as many hats as I did at Western because we just have more resources, but it’s still the same,” Knox said. “When the head coach wants something done or asks for something, it’s your job to find a way.”