Jim Knowles needs a raise.
Knowles is making a salary of $800,000. Sure I’d take it, and yes, it’s a nice chunk of change. But guess what? He deserves more money. Oklahoma State should take his current salary and double it. Do it tomorrow. The Cowboys are likely ranked in the top 10 next week after their win over Texas on Saturday and his unit is the reason why.
And guess what? If you doubled Knowles’ salary, he’d still be making less than his counterpart on the opposite sideline on Saturday, as Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski is making $1.7 million.
The Cowboy defense is smothering. Knowles style is both reckless and relentless. The 4th down play late in the fourth quarter is a great example. OSU played a shallow zone right at the line to gain and sent pressure. Texas quarterback Casey Thompson had to scramble for his life before he eventually got sacked. It was a gamble by Knowles that paid off because had the offensive line held up a fraction of a second longer, Texas had a receiver breaking open over the top and Thompson could’ve thrown an easy touchdown.
But I’m not here to play “what if” because that’s a pointless rabbit hole after any close game. This season, the defense is getting home in those pressure situations, something that started to happen more often in 2020 after two years of the Poke defense getting burned pretty often. When Gundy let Glenn Spencer go and brought in Knowles, the move raised some eyebrows. Knowles’ defenses at Duke had pretty similar numbers to Spencer’s, but Gundy liked the difference in styles. Spencer coached a more bend-don’t-break scheme whereas Knowles is obviously aggressive. He takes chances and sometimes gets burned, but more often than not, at least lately, it works out.
The Cowboys returned an extremely experienced group that is now in Year Four playing the system. Super-Senior Malcolm Rodriguez might be the best linebacker in the Big 12. My biggest concern was last season’s lock-down corner Rodarius Williams moving on to the NFL, but Christian Holmes and Jarrick Bernard-Converse have proven to be more than adequate in coverage. This is a group that just held what had been the most explosive offense in the conference to just six yards in the fourth quarter.
You read that right. Six yards gained by Texas in the fourth quarter. Texas may not be back yet, but nationally they are still a name that turns heads. The folks outside the Midwest who had dismissed anything they had heard about OSU’s defense being good will take it seriously now. There aren’t any offenses left to play in the Big12 that you’d think could light up the Pokes. Iowa State and Brock Purdy are up next up, but Knowles’ style has bothered them the last two seasons. We’ll have to wait and see if Caleb Williams can get OU back to the Lincoln Riley standard of offense we’re used to seeing (although the TCU game was a good start). The odds of the Cowboys having a top 20 defense at the end of the season seems pretty likely. Add a Big 12 title game appearance, and maybe even a win, on the back of his squad and Knowles’ stock will skyrocket.
That’s why Oklahoma State needs to pay him now. There are some big jobs coming open next season. USC for sure, probably LSU too. Not that Knowles would be a head coaching candidate for any job like that, but when those jobs come open it creates a cascade of openings as head coaches and coordinators get poached from a school just to have that school poach others and then the snowball continues to roll downhill. It’s not a stretch to think that the new head coach at USC or LSU likes what they see in Knowles, or an Auburn or Oregon or Ohio State needs a new DC and offers him nearly $2 million per season to come run his scheme with the bigger, faster guys they recruit at those football kingdoms.
In an off-season piece, I wrote that Gundy’s number one priority should be to retain Jim Knowles. And that was written just when I thought he had things going the right direction, not when I thought he’d carry the team to 6-0 and a likely top 10 ranking, while a Mike Gundy offense stumbled around.
Gundy changed the trajectory of OSU football when he hired Dana Holgorsen to revamp his offense a decade ago and he’s done it again with the hiring of Knowles to reshape his defense. He couldn’t hold on to Holgosen longer than one season, but he should do whatever he can to make sure Jim Knowles is around for at least a few more.