Jim Knowles joined the Blue Devil staff on December 28, 2009, and serves as the program’s Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator while coaching the linebackers. Knowles, who added the title of Assistant Head Coach following the 2017 season, was the head coach at Cornell for six seasons (2004-09) and a member of David Cutcliffe’s 2003 staff at Ole Miss.
In 2017, Duke’s Knowles-led defense was one of the best in the ACC, ranking among the league’s leaders in both scoring defense (3rd) and total defense (4th). The Blue Devils allowed just 20.23 points per game, marking the program’s lowest total since 1977, and surrendered more than 24 points just twice. Duke was one of just four defenses in the ACC to have four players register 9.0 tackles for loss or more each, joining Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech.
Duke’s defensive play down the stretch in 2017 — especially in the second half of games — was particularly impressive. The Blue Devils limited their final five opponents (Virginia Tech, Army West Point, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest & Northern Illinois) to 13 total points after intermission and zero in the fourth quarter.
Linebacker Joe Giles-Harris spearheaded Duke’s efforts in 2017 by leading the team and ranking third in the ACC in total tackles with 125 en route to earning first team All-ACC and second team All-America honors. Three additional Blue Devils — cornerback Mark Gilbert, safety Jeremy McDuffie and defensive tackle Mike Ramsay — received All-ACC accolades while defensive end Victor Dimukeje was a first team Freshman All-America pick by ESPN.
In 2016, Knowles oversaw one of the top young linebacker duos in the nation as Freshman All-America and All-ACC honoree Giles-Harris and All-ACC selection Ben Humphreys each surpassed the 100-tackle mark.
Duke was one of 14 teams, and eight Power 5 squads, to have two linebackers with 100 or more tackles. Giles-Harris finished fourth in the ACC in tackles per game (8.92) while Humphreys was sixth (8.83). Giles-Harris posted the third-most tackles (107) among freshmen nationally and was second in stops per game while the total was the third highest by a Duke rookie in program history.
Knowles' defense as a whole finished tied for first in the country with just three fourth-down conversions allowed. The Blue Devils ranked 37th nationally with 6.58 tackles for loss per game, an 18-spot jump from the 2015 finish.
In 2015, Knowles mentored Dwayne Norman, who made a successful transition from safety to linebacker prior to his final campaign as a Blue Devil and responded by leading Duke in tackles (114), ranking sixth in the ACC in tackles per game (8.77) and earning second team All-ACC honors. Norman signed a free agent contract with the NFL's Denver Broncos following the season.
As a unit, Duke's defense — led by consensus All-America and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Jeremy Cash — held four opponents to seven points or less for the first time since 1971. Cash, a safety, and Norman teamed with All-ACC safety DeVon Edwards to give Duke one of two defensive trios nationally to post 100-plus tackles each.
Knowles' 2014 defensive unit yielded 21.77 points a game, marking the fifth-best mark since 1976 and tops since allowing 20.58 points per week in 1994. Anchoring the defense were Cash, Edwards and All-ACC linebacker David Helton as each tallied 100-plus tackles to become the eighth trio in program history with 100 or more stops apiece. The trio helped Duke hold seven opponents to under 20 points in 2014, the program's most since 1974. Also, the Blue Devils kept five foes to 13 or fewer points after holding seven opponents under 13 points in Cutcliffe's previous six seasons.
In 2013, Duke's defense included three first team All-ACC picks in linebacker Kelby Brown, Cash and cornerback Ross Cockrell, marking Duke's highest total of defensive first team selections since 1974. With 133 tackles on the year, linebacker Helton led the ACC in total stops while Cash finished second with 121. Brown was tops in the league in tackles per game (10.4) in conference play.
Cockrell was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Blue Devils recorded 26 takeaways in 2013 — the fourth-highest total in the ACC — and their average points allowed in the fourth quarter (4.64) ranked second in the conference, trailing only national champion Florida State. In addition, Duke won all four of its road ACC games by allowing an average of 19.5 points per contest in victories over North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
The Blue Devils had three members of its defensive unit earn All-ACC honors in 2012: defensive end Kenny Anunike (Honorable mention), safety Walt Canty (2nd team) and Cockrell (1st team). Anunike led Duke in sacks for the second straight season; Canty paced the squad in tackles with 109 while Cockrell, an honorable mention All-America pick by Sports Illustrated, posted an ACC-best five interceptions on the year.
In 2011, the Duke defense was led by safety Matt Daniels, who earned first team All-ACC and second team All-America honors after posting 126 tackles. Daniels went on to sign a free agent contract with the NFL's St. Louis Rams.
Knowles coached the Blue Devil safeties in 2010 as Daniels led the charge with 93 tackles, six tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, three caused fumbles and two fumble recoveries. His three forced fumbles ranked second in the ACC. In addition, Canty carded 63 tackles while Lee Butler chipped in 58 stops.
In addition, Knowles oversaw the mid-season transition of August Campbell from linebacker to safety and the redshirt freshman responded with a school record 95-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Boston College. The return broke the 54-year old record of 77 yards set by Ed Rushton against Pittsburgh in 1956.
A 1987 graduate of Cornell, Knowles spent nine years (1988-96) as an assistant coach at his alma mater, helping the Big Red to Ivy League championships in 1988 and 1990. In his first stint at Cornell, he coached defensive line (1988), running backs (1989-94) and linebackers (1995-96) while coordinating the staff's recruiting efforts (1995-96). He was named Cornell's 25th head football coach in January, 2004, and guided the Big Red to an overall ledger of 26-34 with a 16-26 record in Ivy League play.
In his first season at the helm of the Big Red program, Knowles turned a 1-9 squad that lost seven games by at least two touchdowns into a 4-6 unit that went 4-3 in conference play and lost all six contests by 10 points or less. Cornell's 2004 squad became the first team in Ivy League history to go from zero conference wins to a winning league slate in just one season. Under Knowles, Cornell posted three consecutive seasons (2005-06-07) at .500 or better for the first time since 1990-91-92 and, in 2007, enjoyed a stretch of scoring 30 or more points in four straight games for the first time since 1921 while home attendance nearly doubled from the 2006 campaign.
In his lone season at Ole Miss, Knowles aided the Rebels to a 10-3 record, a share of the SEC Western Division championship and a 31-28 victory over Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl. Coaching the linebackers while serving as recruiting coordinator, Knowles helped the Ole Miss defense rank 14th in the nation in rushing defense while the Rebels held eight opponents — including eventual national champion LSU — to 21 or fewer points.
Knowles spent six seasons (1997-02) on the staff at Western Michigan University, serving the last two campaigns as defensive coordinator. In 2002, the Broncos led the Mid-American Conference and ranked 28th nationally in total defense and featured Jason Babin, the MAC Defensive Player of the Year and the school's first NFL first round draft pick. In 2001, Western Michigan paced the conference and ranked 17th nationally in pass defense. Knowles' tenure with the Broncos also included three shutouts during the 2000 season — the school's highest total since 1971 — and the development of two-time All-MAC pick Dan Falcon (1997-98) and Ryan Bauer, who led the league in sacks in 1997.
A native of Philadelphia, Pa., Knowles was a three-year letterman and All-Ivy League selection as a defensive end at Cornell before graduating in 1987 with a bachelor's degree from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He and his wife, Nancy, have three children — Halle, Luke and Jack.
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