In 1972 he caught the game-winning TD pass in the Cougars’ win over Wewahitchka for the Class A state football title; today, he is retiring as CEO of Beall’s Inc.
Steve Knopik caught the game-winning touchdown pass in Cardinal Mooney’s 18-13 victory over Wewahitchka for the 1972 Class A state football title.
For Knopik, the play was a harbinger to a life of success and achievement. On Tuesday, the 64-year-old will retire as CEO of Beall’s, Inc.
When he joined the Bradenton-based company in 1984 as director of finance, it had 33 stores. Knopik will step down with Beall’s having 470 stores in 16 states, employing more than 11,000 people, and having grown in volume by a factor of 18.
As he did in that title game in ’72, Knopik made a real difference in his time as Beall’s CEO. And when he assumed the position in 2006, he became the first non-Beall family member to do so.
Knopik joined the company and steadily rose through the ranks. Perhaps the most modest and unassuming CEO one could hope to meet, Knopik said he simply took advantage of the opportunities he was given.
“I worked hard, but I think the real blessing was we were hell-bent on growing,” he said. Former president Bob Beall took Knopik under his wing and groomed him to be his successor.
“He said he had me slotted to become CEO at one point,” Knopik said. “It was working hard, it was gaining the trust of the patriarch of the business, and it was being around and being part of a real growth story.”
When the Great Recession hit, “off-price” businesses such as Beall’s, T.J. Max and Ross Dress for Less “kind of rotated into favor,” Knopik said. “We were able to continue to grow that business through a rough time.”
Maybe not as CEO of a company, but Knopik’s teammates knew the 6-foot, 165-pound split end would succeed in whatever field he entered.
“Everybody was aware of how smart Steve Knopik was,” fellow Mooney wide receiver Con Nicholas said. “Steve Knopik has always been the smartest guy in the room.
“Besides that, I’ve never respected and admired anybody in my life more than I respect and admire Steve Knopik. He just has so many wonderful qualities. He’s got a lot of humility, and to me, that’s one of his biggest qualities.”
But against Wewahitchka, good hands was Knopik’s most desired quality. Earlier in the game, playing defensive back, Knopik was burned on an out route. The throw from the Wewahitchka quarterback hit his receiver in the hands, but bounced off. A sure touchdown, wasn’t.
“God had to be looking down on me,” Knopik said. But late in the game and down 13-12, Mooney recovered a muffed Wewahitchka snap by its punter deep in enemy territory.
On first down, Cougar head coach John Heath Sr. dialed up a play named “fake cross-buck quarterback roll right.” Usually cross-buck meant quarterback John Heath Jr. would hand the ball off.
But Heath faked the handoff to fullback China Smith Sr. and rolled right. The pass was intended to go to Nicholas, but he had been getting held up all game at the line of scrimmage by aggressive Wewahitchka defensive backs.
“Con said, ‘We can’t run that,’ ” Knopik said. ” ‘Let’s go the other way and let Steve run across and be the receiver. At Con’s request, it turned out the spotlight was on me.”
With Nicholas held up, and with Wewahitchka defenders having committed to the fake to Smith, Knopik ran all alone to the end zone.
“It wasn’t a perfect throw,” he said. “It was a little low and I had to stop. I put both hands under the ball and it kind of hit me in the belly and I kind of fell to my knees in the end zone.”
Knopik, a junior, returned for his senior season. After graduation, the Coast Guard Academy showed some interest, but with no desire to join, Knopik instead attended Florida and earned a degree in accounting.
After getting a job out of Florida with accounting firm KPMG in 1977, Knopik joined Beall’s seven years later. His rise in the company would follow.
But not everything has been roses for Steve and wife Beth. In 2012 the couple lost its 16-year-old daughter, Leanna Mae, to myocarditis. Knopik called it “the most difficult experience of his life.” Beth is currently writing a book on the ordeal.
And on Tuesday, when Steve Knopik steps down as CEO, the next Beall in line, 42-year-old Matt, will take over.
“I just decided that it was time for me to get out of Matt’s way and let him run the business,” Steve said. “Maybe a little bit earlier than I planned, but the time felt right.”
The first thing Matt Beall should know about his new gig is this: the shoes you’re stepping into are size 54 ZZZZ.
That’s because previously they were worn by Steve Knopik.