Eye on MSU: Knox pulls miracle out of hat for Bulldogs

Joel Coleman
Staff Writer

For the last month or so, Greg Knox has carried around the title of interim head coach for Mississippi State.

After what I witnessed on Saturday, Knox might want to add ‘Miracle Worker’ to his resume.

I’ve seen the unexpected happen in sports before. Upsets happen. Things that you never see coming occur. I can safely add Saturday’s TaxSlayer Bowl to my list as Mississippi State beat Louisville 31-27. How Knox pulled together the madhouse that has been the MSU football program the last few weeks is beyond me, but somehow, someway, that’s exactly what he did and the Bulldogs added one more win in 2017.

Let’s recap briefly, shall we? A little over a month ago, MSU faced Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. Star quarterback Nick Fitzgerald broke his ankle. A few days later, Dan Mullen left MSU to be the head coach of the Florida Gators. Not long after that, several MSU assistants left with Mullen, including defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

The keys of the Bulldog car were handed over to Knox. His job would have been tough enough had he just had to inadvertently act as the head coach. Consider also he had to manage a coaching staff whose future is up in the air. He had to navigate around some likely uncomfortable circumstances as incoming Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead brought in new staff full of guys that are taking the jobs of some of the men that led the Bulldogs in the bowl game. Knox also had to handle players’ emotions, as they deal with the fact the coaches they grew close to are now being replaced by unfamiliar faces.

All the feelings came to a boiling point as MSU wrapped up the win on Saturday. Tears flowed. Pictures were taken. There were long hugs and spirited "thank yous."

The moment of joy was made possible by Knox, who made no secret the last little bit hasn’t been all that easy.

“The last three or four weeks we’ve been together, it has been a tough time for everyone,” Knox said after the game. “You’re talking about 120-something guys and everybody is hearing things differently. There are coaches and I’m holding together the staff and holding together the team. There are a lot of emotions involved. I think that’s what you saw on the field. It was a chance for everyone to breathe a sigh of relief and say, ‘Thank you, God, for this win.’”

I don’t know where Knox goes from here. If he is to be believed, Knox himself doesn’t know either. I asked Knox after the game what’s next in his career. His response?

“I have no idea,” Knox said. “Right now, it’s just all focus on this team and enjoying the moment we’re in.”

I do know that, regardless of what his future holds, Knox should forever be held in high regard by anyone who supports Mississippi State or just enjoys seeing a man do a job in a first-class manner. It goes unnoticed by the general public, but Knox made every media appearance and answered every question the last few weeks with a genuineness and honesty that really isn’t all that common. He even did it all with a smile on his face and seemed to enjoy piloting these Bulldogs through a turbulent path.

I know there is much excitement about Moorhead and his new staff taking over at MSU and rightfully so. I’m guessing bright days await State football, but before everyone moves on, I suggest you give Greg Knox your praise. He didn’t just do a tough job. He did it well. Now the Bulldogs can comfortably close one chapter of their history and move on to the next stage.

“I know this meant a lot to coach Knox,” MSU defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons said. “It meant a lot to this program for him to do this.”

Joel Coleman is the Mississippi State beat writer for The Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are Coleman's and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SDN or its staff.