When the New York Jets drafted Zach Wilson, they had a plan for how to develop him and his name was Greg Knapp. SNY’s Connor Hughes reiterated this on January 5, noting that “[Rob] Calabrese was [originally the] QB coach by title, but it was a developmental role.”
Hughes added: “Greg Knapp, after recommendations from many including Matt Ryan, was hired to guide Wilson. They were inseparable OTAs… The Jets hired Matt Cavanaugh to fill the void, but he was not/is not on [the] same level of Knapp. It was Matt Ryan who told Jets there was no better person than Knapp to help a young QB because of how he was able to relate to them, communicate with them.”
As most Jets fans know, Knapp tragically passed away during the summer of 2021. While the aforementioned Cavanaugh — and to some extent, John Beck — were brought in to take on his role during Wilson’s rookie campaign, Gang Green opted to abandon that plan in year two.
On January 9, head coach Robert Saleh finally owned up to that error in judgment.
Robert Saleh Will ‘Definitely’ Address QB Staff in 2023
During his end of season press conference, Saleh shared his thoughts on several topics and the most emotional response by far came after a question involving the inexperience within the QB room.
“With the coaching staff, are you — one — open and then — two — considering adding a veteran influence to the [offensive] staff as an advisor, as a senior advisor, [or] as a consultant?” Hughes asked Saleh at the end of the presser.
“Yeah,” the Jets HC began before getting noticeably choked up. “We had Knapper, God rest his soul, and I can look back and reflect on whether or not I should have replaced that position last year. I chose not to — I wanted to quiet the [quarterback] room. But that is a position we’re definitely going to replace.”
It was the first time Saleh admitted to this miscalculation publicly, and let’s not pretend like this was an easy task for the rookie head coach. Knapp was a rare breed, a QB whisperer if you will, and who knows what sort of loss weighed on the hearts of Saleh and his staff.
That’s no excuse for him making no attempt to bring in a veteran presence in 2022, however.
Instead, Saleh decided to promote Calabrese in an attempt to simplify this unit. Fewer cooks in the kitchen, as the expression goes, but that meant trusting in two coaches that were learning on the job.
Mike LaFleur is a first-time NFL offensive coordinator with the Jets. Calabrese is a first-time NFL quarterbacks coach with two years of pro-level experience as an offensive quality control coach prior to joining Gang Green.
Saleh always references his big break on Pete Carroll’s staff in Seattle as a defensive quality control coach, so maybe he saw a piece of himself in the 32-year-old Calabrese. No matter the reason, the results have been disastrous considering the Jets have one of the worst-performing quarterback rooms in football.
The silver lining is that Saleh appears to have recognized that costly coaching decision, voicing that the Jets are “definitely going to replace” that role in 2023. Of course, after watching Wilson regress to new lows under Calabrese and LaFleur’s guidance, this potential staff change could end up being too little too late.
Joe Douglas & Woody Johnson Deferring to Robert Saleh on Mike LaFleur
The answer sort of flew under the radar, but perhaps the most surprising moment of Joe Douglas’ year-end media availability was when the NYJ general manager discussed the idea of making changes to the offensive coaching staff — a hot topic around the Jets community.
“I feel like Robert has a really good beat on this team and his staff, and I trust and support any decision that that Robert makes, and I can tell you that we’ve gotten full support from Woody [Johnson] this past — starting from since he’s come back.”
A reporter then clarified whether or not that meant Saleh would be making the final decision on retaining LaFleur as offensive coordinator, to which Douglas replied “absolutely.”
“So, it’s his call, ultimately,” the reporter reiterated once again. For the second time, Douglas responded “absolutely.”
Although Saleh waivered a bit on his initial vote of confidence in LaFleur after the Miami Dolphins effort, he’s stated pretty bluntly that he doesn’t believe in giving up on coordinators this early into their tenure — referencing his early struggles as DC with the San Francisco 49ers.
Based on that belief, it’s hard to see Saleh moving on from LaFleur if the decision is truly his to make. It’s more likely that the Jets add a veteran quarterback and a veteran staff member that knows the quarterback position. Hughes suggested former Super Bowl champion Gary Kubiak as a name to “keep an eye on” for that ever-critical coaching position.