BUFFALO, N.Y. — Chuck Knox, the head coach who led the Bills from 1978-1982 through some of the most memorable moments in club history, died Saturday at the age of 86 after years of declining health.

Knox coached the club to an AFC East division title in 1980 and two playoff appearances. He's remembered as "Ground Chuck" for his conservative offense based on running the football. But those around him recall his toughness and the ability to bring out the best in his players.

Former Bills All-Pro defensive lineman Fred Smerlas has fond memories of the way Knox could galvanize a team.

"You knew who's boss and you knew to respect him. Just a magical guy," Smerlas said. "He had them focused and he had their adrenaline. We loved each other. We played for each other. It was like we bled for each other."

Knox was one the sidelines for a monumental victory to start the 1980 season when the Bills defeated the Miami Dolphins, ending a decade-long losing streak to their division rivals. The win prompted fans to in then-Rich Stadium to tear down the goal posts in jubilation.

"That was like the Super Bowl when that monkey was off your back. It was just tremendous," Smerlas said.

Long-time Buffalo News sportswriter Milt Northrop covered those teams in the early 1980s. He believes Knox set the foundation within the organization for the Bills’ Super Bowl runs years later.

"He changed the attitude. He changed the culture," Northrop said. "He was no pushover and his teams weren't pushovers either. He instilled that toughness into his teams."

Knox was named NFL Coach of the Year three times in stints with the Bills, Rams and Seahawks, becoming the first head coach to take three different teams to the playoffs. Knox forged a winning legacy through fanning the competitive flame.

"He brought the best," Smerlas said. "Anyone's personality came out. But all the personalities helped make one big fireball."