Visitation is Friday evening, Oct. 13, from 5-8 pm with a memorial service Saturday, Oct. 14 at 11 am for Coach Gene Knecht, an iconic figure in Northwestern State’s athletic history who was a 1988 inductee in the university’s N-Club Hall of Fame. Visitation will be held at Blanchard-St. Denis Funeral Home and the service will be held at Trinity Episcopal Church in Natchitoches.
Knecht passed away Monday, three weeks shy of his 89th birthday. He was an assistant football coach for the Demons from 1961-79 following a highly-successful eight-year high school head coaching career at Winnsboro and Coushatta.
He is survived by his beloved wife of 67 years, Dorothy “Dot” Knecht, four children, 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Sons Gene and Brett Knecht played football for the Demons while son Jim was an Academic All-Southeastern Conference player at LSU and has been an NSU team doctor since 1982. The fourth child was a daughter, Pam Singletary.
Knecht was a two-time All-Gulf States Conference fullback at Louisiana Tech for coach Joe Aillet after an outstanding high school career at Warren Easton High in New Orleans. In college, he was also a GSC champion javelin thrower, and a sprinter, for the Bulldogs. He was selected in the NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams but chose to get married and start his coaching career.
In 1952, he started the football program at Coushatta High and over his last four seasons went 37-3, winning three straight district championships. Among his standout players at Coushatta, several moved on to play for the Demons, including N-Club Hall of Fame members Jerry Fowler, Johnny Ray Norman and Ferrell Yarbrough, all who played professionally, along with N-Club Hall of Fame member and longtime state senator Don Kelly.
After leaving Coushatta, Knecht went 15-5 in two seasons at Winnsboro before joining coach Jack Clayton’s Demon staff.
He came on board as a graduate assistant in 1961, then became full-time as an assistant coach and physical education instructor in 1962. He was promoted to assistant professor in 1972 and gained tenure in 1977.
Knecht helped coach the 1966 Demons to a perfect 9-0 record, and was part of conference champion staffs in 1962, 1966 and 1972. He served under Clayton, Glenn Gossett, George Doherty and A.L. Williams, finishing his career as defensive coordinator for Doherty in 1972 and remaining in that post for Williams. He was regarded as a dynamic recruiter who also briefly coached golf and tennis for the Demons.
Knecht retired from coaching and teaching in 1978, then served as coordinator of plant maintenance for the university until retiring from NSU at the end of 1987.
In 1969, he, Johnnie Emmons and Walter Ledet re-initiated the N-Club for graduated athletic letterwinners. Knecht was also noted for cooking for university and Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame events for at least two decades, and was an avid outdoorsman.
He remained very engaged with the university until his passing. His obituary says “his love for Northwestern State University never wavered” and he, and his wife, frequently attended home games in many sports until very recently.