Some moments are better than others, but it's always a losing fight against the cruel memory-erasing Alzheimer's disease. For 96-year-old Tony Knap, the days are slowly becoming more difficult.
But even in this late stage of his life, Alzheimer's isn't so merciless as to rob Knap of all his cherished memories from Boise State and UNLV, football programs where his impact remains substantial, even if his name is little recognized nowadays.
Ivan Rounds, a former Boise State defensive tackle who visits Knap often, recently gave the old coach a poster depicting a Broncos game on their famous blue turf. "You're the guy who helped build that foundation," Rounds told him. Knap then grasped the hands of his wife, Mickey, and said, "You were with me the entire time."
Many who played for Knap or coached under him have remained with the Silver Fox the entire time as well. While they respect Knap's craftiness and coaching ability, they are fiercely loyal because of how he treated them as men and the respect he showed others.
Some visit, many call, others write. They want to know how Knap is feeling, the long-ago coach who is still affecting lives.
Knap, who turned 96 last month, lives in a retirement home in Pullman, Wash., with Mickey, who turns 91 in March. Their 70th wedding anniversary is in April.
"They were a team and still are," said Jaki Wright, the oldest of the couple's three children.
"Both Mom and Dad have retained their very nice people skills. They listen. They smile and they make eye contact."
Wright, who lives in nearby Moscow, Idaho, visits her parents about twice a day. Her sisters live farther away -- Angie Nelson in Las Vegas and Caroline Smith in Hawaii.
Watching her parents age isn't easy for Wright, who knows her morning visit often will have been forgotten by the time she arrives in the afternoon.
"But there are times when they are right on," Wright said. "I really look forward to those times."
Her dad's memory is sharper when he recalls the distant past, such as when he coached UNLV for six seasons, from 1976 through 1981, and won 47 games, still the most by any coach in the program's 43-year history.
Teams coached by Knap, who wears a UNLV ring, established the four best offensive seasons in school history. The Rebels averaged a record 491.3 yards per game in 1981, 472.1 in 1979, 453.7 in 1977 and 446.2 in 1980. UNLV has averaged 400 yards only four times in the 29 years since Knap retired.
"He's as good a football coach as I believe there ever was," said Rich Abajian, UNLV's defensive backs coach under Knap from 1979 to 1981. "He was so far ahead of his time. There was no way you could defend our plays unless you were physically tough."
It was the way Knap rolled up such numbers that stuck with Abajian: by allowing his quarterbacks to call plays. Knap reasoned that they were the ones in the game, so they would call only the plays they felt comfortable running, and such responsibility would help them later with more crucial life decisions.
"He believed in growing people and not just football players," said Abajian, general manager and co-owner of Findlay Toyota.
Abajian said Knap not only broke down every play, he broke down each player in every play to look for any hidden edge.
In 1978, the Rebels faced a Colorado State team led by defensive lineman Mike Bell, who would become the No. 2 overall pick of the 1979 NFL Draft. Knap didn't think UNLV could block Bell, so he instructed the offensive lineman assigned to Bell to fall back and bring down the defender by his jersey. Bell wasn't a factor in UNLV's 33-6 victory.
Two games later, the Rebels neutralized Wyoming's outstanding secondary by rushing a record-tying 68 times in a 12-10 victory.
Knap was just as much a trailblazer at Boise State. He took over the Broncos when they made the leap from junior college to Division II in 1968 and immediately went 8-2. By the time Knap departed for UNLV after the 1975 season, he had a 71-19-1 record.
Adam Rita, now general manager for Toronto of the Canadian Football League, was on Boise State's staff from 1972 to 1975, then was UNLV's wide receivers coach from 1976 to 1978.
Knap saw something special in Rita, and helped him launch a successful CFL career that included winning the 1991 Grey Cup as Toronto's coach.
"He taught me how to evaluate and how to attack," Rita said. "All my success in my football career as a coach and general manager is due to him. I'd stay up all night drawing plays, and he'd come in and say, 'What if they blitz?' or 'What if they play cover-2?' "
Knap is a major reason for Boise State's success, establishing an early path for the Broncos to become a national power. UNLV has had only six winning seasons since Knap stepped down, and the Rebels, in many ways, are still trying to replace him.
"He left Boise State for UNLV because he thought there was more potential," Abajian said. "Coach Knap really believed UNLV could win the national championship in the 1990s."
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914.