FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The Jets opened training camp Tuesday with a sense of optimism, the way you’re supposed to feel at this time of year in the NFL. Yet the shadow of Greg Knapp’s tragedy nevertheless hung over the team as the coaches and players reported for a new season.
The Jets’ passing game coordinator died Thursday from injuries he suffered when he was struck by an automobile while riding a bicycle the previous Saturday in San Ramon, California. It was a horrific accident that claimed the life of one of the NFL’s most popular assistant coaches, a man who’d spent a quarter century helping players get better at their craft and a man whose infectious personality was as keenly developed as his football acumen.
Knapp was just 58.
First-year coach Robert Saleh was gutted when he heard the news of Knapp’s injuries and subsequent death, shattered by the loss felt by Knapp’s wife and three children, and overcome with emotion about how much the coach would be missed by those he had already touched in just a few months on the job.
But Saleh will proceed by honoring the wishes he believes Knapp would have had for the coach and the team he left behind.
“Knowing Knapper, he’d be really upset if we didn’t move on with a positive attitude,” Saleh said in his opening remarks to reporters. “He was a tremendous man, a tremendous leader, father, a tremendous husband, and he’s going to be sorely missed.”
Yet Saleh believes Knapp’s spirit will remain.
“As far as the group and this team, there’s been a lot of tremendous support not only from within the organization, but outside the organization,” Saleh said. “I know that he’ll be with us throughout this entire season.”
Knapp was hired just six months ago to help with the Jets’ passing offense and to develop rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, who was drafted weeks after Knapp’s arrival. But even in that short a period of time, Knapp’s countenance impacted those around him as it had in previous coaching stops with the Falcons, 49ers, Raiders, Texans, Seahawks and Broncos. And it wasn’t just the players he coached directly; it was everybody with whom he came in contact.
“Greg was a guy that you didn’t have to be around him long to know he was a special person,” veteran guard Greg Van Roten said. “He did have this light that he let shine that just attracted people to him.”
Second-year offensive tackle Mekhi Becton, who spent much of the offseason rehabbing a foot injury alongside defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, was similarly impacted by Knapp.
“He meant a lot to us,” Becton said. “It hurt us pretty well. Me and Q [Williams] would be in the weight room, and every day he could come in there and tell goals to do and what we need to do for the season. I feel like me and Q are going to do our best to fulfill those goals, and we’re going to do it for him.”
In ways big and small, the Jets will dedicate their season to Knapp’s memory. And though his time with the team was short, his impact was immeasurable.
“He was someone you can tell, just during the short time we were together during [organized team activities], that he never had a bad day,” Van Roten said. “He wasn’t someone that let circumstances dictate his attitude. I wish I had more time with him. I’m sure everybody does. It’s something you have to take a positive away from, or else it’ll just drive you crazy otherwise.”
Rest in peace, Knapper.
You will not be forgotten.