Winning in the Worst Way

Rock Knapp transformed little Northwest Academy from gridiron patsy to playoff powerhouse. So why are some parents calling for his head?

His resume features testimonials from well-known coaches, including Lou Holtz of Arkansas. Knapp reported being a scout for the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League and four months as a "guest coach" for the CFL's Saskatchewan team.

In experience as a high school coach, he listed the 1989-90 season at Antelope Valley Christian school in Los Angeles, then three years as athletic director and coach at Westminster Christian Academy in Opelousas, Louisiana.

In his resume Knapp says he developed Westminster's football problem into back-to-back undefeated seasons, which he claims established it as one of the highest-profiled high school programs in America. "We were featured in several national publications, including USA Today."

However, the paper credentials pale in comparison to the word-of-mouth recommendations: Several parents say they listened in awe as Knapp talked of his National Football League days with the San Francisco 49ers.

The Northwest Academy board snapped up this gridiron godsend. Knapp, his wife, Shari, and their four children arrived in the fall of 1995.

The native of Des Moines, Iowa, made an immediate impact. Six feet tall and 250 pounds, with pinpoint-intense green eyes, "Coach Rock" seemed the personification of discipline and motivation.

Everyone associated with the school agrees on certain things about the massive coach with the shaved head. He's a powerful speaker, fluent in Biblical scripture. Knapp has an ability to tap into the emotions of his players and draw in parents with traditions such as postgame prayers on the field, which unite players, family and coaches.

A former assistant has no doubt about Knapp's talent as a coach. "He is a heck of a football coach, man," says the underling. "Whether his methods and motives be right or wrong, I learned a lot."

But this same ex-assistant attributes other traits to Knapp, saying he is a manipulator nonpareil who lied about his own football-playing past to his student athletes and co-workers, to inflate his image.

"He is a master at acting and just making you believe what he wants you to believe," says the former assistant. "He's great at it. Ted has the ability to bring in people, get 'em under his wing, and then you trust him. As long as he's being stroked and everything is going his way, everything will be fine."

And everything seemed fine from the very start. In the season opener in September 1995, the lowly Northwest Mustangs, winless in their last 19 games, marched onto the field against Apple Springs. Under Coach Rock, they dominated in a 49-14 victory.

The Houston Chronicle sports section noted that senior running back Chris Edwards galloped for 257 yards and four TDs on just 16 carries. It didn't mention that Edwards was a former Westminster Christian player for Knapp who had followed the coach to his new campus.

By 1996 the gospel was spreading about the coach who was performing the schoolboy football miracle. Jeanette Ramming stopped in an area sporting goods store, where a sales clerk spoke reverent words about a former San Francisco 49er who was fashioning a top-flight program at Northwest Academy.

Ramming would become one of Knapp's greatest converts, and patrons. She and her husband, Larry, had amassed impressive wealth with his rise to chairman and CEO of the internationally known Boots & Coots oil field fire suppression company. But they had kept their middle-class roots, and they liked the lack of pretension and the Christian atmosphere at Northwest Academy.

They enrolled their son Temple in the eighth grade that fall. And the Rammings began helping the football program financially, even lending money to one previous coach of Temple's to help him earn his teaching certificate.

"I had always been active wherever Temple had been in school," says Jeanette, who quickly noticed things such as the team's lack of water bottles or the need for insecticide to kill the ants that plagued the team's practice field.

Ramming began dropping by the athletic office for chats with Knapp. "He was friendly and outgoing, lighthearted, with a genuine concern for the kids," she remembers.

Knapp tells of a broader friendship that developed with the Rammings. "Jeanette is a very giving, kind person, so she helped lots of people outside the football program. It wasn't just a football relationship. Both her and Larry and our family became very close and, I thought, very intimate friends."

In discussions about helping the football program, Ramming says Knapp asked her for money to pay for food and other expenses during road trips.

"I didn't have any reason not to trust him, so I began giving him cash like he requested," says Ramming.

Then came an early indication of trouble. Ramming tells of going by the school's business office to ask for receipts for her donations, for tax deductions. A worker excused herself and returned with the business manager.

"We really don't want you to do that anymore, because he didn't tell anybody that he got money from you," Ramming quotes the business manager as saying. "We don't know anything about it, and it puts us in an awkward place."

Knapp recalls that Jeanette would press cash upon him for team expenditures, and he would return unused amounts to her. But there was also a stream of increasingly large gifts from the Rammings that the coach and his wife say they reluctantly accepted.

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1 comments
El_Vitriole
El_Vitriole

Knapp has travelled all over the USA, coaching for 2 or 3 years at a dozen 'Christian" schools, talking the talk and definitely helping the football teams achieve wins.  However, in his latter years in Florida and Georgia, he represented himself as having won "Nine State Championships in Six States" which is completely FALSE and a LIE.  He won two State titles in 8-Man football, in 1980 and 1990 and the rest of the time he did well but did not win another State Title.  The man is a LIAR and the TRUTH is not in him.  However, he possesses the ability to fool the faithful and contiues to this day to find stupid people who are all to ready to believe every word he says.

 
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