Mike LaFleur: ‘Knapper’s Going to Live on in This [Jets] QB Room’

Greg Knapp

Getty Former NFL quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp (1963-2021).

There’s no doubt about it, the New York Jets are playing for something bigger than themselves in 2021.

As most fans have probably already heard, quarterback mentor and Jets passing game specialist Greg Knapp passed away on July 22, 2021.

The story of the NFL coach’s tragic accident, as well as all its ripple effects on his family and the NFL community, were truly heartbreaking. Less than a week has gone by and it still feels like some horrible nightmare that could not possibly be true.

Simply put, it’s been a whirlwind of emotion for those that knew Knapp, and one of the people that spent the most time with him over the past six months was Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.

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Knapp’s Influence on LaFleur

Recently, LaFleur opened up about his short yet impactful friendship with the legendary teacher of the game. Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated’s The Monday Morning Quarterback shared the exclusive.

“You undersold him. [Greg] is an absolutely phenomenal quarterback coach. But he’s an even better person. And that’s what really sucks about this whole thing. He was at such, as you’ve probably heard, a good, good point in his life. I didn’t know him 20 years ago, five years ago. I selfishly think we had the best Greg Knapp anyone’s ever seen, the last six months. There was such a peace and ease in his eyes and his demeanor and he was so ready to attack this next stage of his life. And it’s a shame. But it’s up to us, anyone that knew him, particulary our staff right now, because we were with him last, to make sure that we learn from those lessons he taught us and move forward with them,” LaFleur told Breer.

Breer filled in the blanks and explained what many close to Knapp had told him, that the coach was “happily remarried [and] a year away from being empty-nesters with [his wife] Charlotte, with big plans for the future that had as much to do with living as coaching.” Truly at peace, as LaFleur voiced himself.

The two Jets colleagues had become quite close in a brief amount of time, from hours in the offensive film rooms and meetings to “dozens of dinners” together. They even met up in Napa over the NFL’s summer break, according to Breer.

“LaFleur, Jets quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese and Knapp were connected at the hip,” wrote Breer, and those experiences will stick with the Jets OC forever.

“Knapper’s going to live on in this quarterback room,” LaFleur affirmed.

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Knapper’s Dream, Wilson’s Test

Peter King of NBC Sports and Football Morning in America sat down with an older friend of Knapp’s — Hall of Famer Steve Young, who was one of the first NFL quarterbacks he coached.

“[Greg] coached humans to be great quarterbacks and good humans — and both things were really important to him, not just the football,” Young explained to King.

The former NFL quarterback also illustrated just how ecstatic Knapp was to tutor a young prodigy like Zach Wilson: “He told me before the draft [that] Zach was the number one quarterback in the draft in his book. After working with him for a while, Knapper loved Zach. He was a grinder. He wanted all the information. I can tell you Knapper was so excited — he was going to take a young kid and give him every chance to be a great player. As a coach, that was his dream. That was his calling.”

His dream was to help others grow. Think about that for a moment.

During a press conference back on June 16, 2021, Knapp called working with Wilson and the Jets’ young quarterback room “invigorating,” his passion and enthusiasm were plainly evident.

Wilson has not spoken publicly about the devasting loss of his recent mentor aside from an Instagram post. It said: “Man this is hard. Huge impact on my life in only a few months. Love you, coach Knapper!”

Grief affects every person differently and there’s no question that the rookie quarterback is feeling some level of pain right now. In life, adversity comes in many different forms, and Wilson’s first NFL test will be overcoming the passing of a friend.

King noted that in one of the final conversations between Knapp and Wilson, the coach gave the rookie some drills to use in a player-organized practice session down in Florida. “Run it yourself” — the final challenge from the teacher to his latest student, and the Jets quarterback did so successfully.

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Last Word From LaFleur

Knapp coached some of the greatest quarterbacks of the modern era and he also coached the journeymen and prospects like Wilson.

The list includes; Young, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Michael Vick, Jeff Garcia, Carson Palmer, Matt Schaub, Brock Osweiler and many others.

LaFleur described how one man could relate to so many different quarterbacks and people, no matter their age or their background.

He said: “You got to be able to relate to them within being yourself and Knapper had no problem being himself every single day. I mean, he was never different in the six months I was with him, there was never a bad day. There was never an up day. Every day was just up for him. Everyone does that little hand gesture that you’re even keel, his even keel is just up, it’s just unbelievable.”

Anecdotes from Knapp’s career continue to pour in every day from all around the football community, a true testament to his NFL footprint.

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