Matt Cavanaugh hopes to honor late Greg Knapp as Jets' senior offensive specialist
Florham Park, N.J. – Matt Cavanaugh had just finished a round of golf when he heard the news about Greg Knapp’s bicycle accident.
Cavanaugh had known Knapp for years — since the time they’d worked with the 49ers in 1996 – and sent his good friend a text.
"Bro, I’m praying for you," Cavanaugh wrote. "You can pull through this."
That text was never returned. Knapp, who had been struck by a vehicle on July 17 while on a ride near his home in San Ramon, California, died five days later at age 58.
"I was just crushed," Cavanaugh said. "It was just such a tragedy."
He’d never imagined he’d be in this position today: Cavanaugh, a former NFL backup who played with the 1990-91 Giants and went on to a long career as an NFL assistant coach, replaced Knapp on the Jets’ coaching staff. Cavanaugh, 64, is now the Jets’ senior offensive specialist.
Cavanaugh grew emotional when he talked about what it means to take the position Knapp had previously held.
"I’m not here to replace him," Cavanaugh said. "I don’t think I can replace him. But I promise I’ll try to represent him well, work hard, do the best I can, and hopefully make him proud."
Cavanaugh, who previously coached with Washington from 2015-19 and was the Jets’ quarterbacks coach under Rex Ryan from 2009-12, is now entrusted with helping Jets first-round quarterback Zach Wilson. He’d been asked several weeks ago by coach Robert Saleh to spend some time around the Jets to see if a partnership would work, and the two mutually agreed to a new deal.
"When I first talked to coach Saleh, he said, ‘We brought [Knapp] in for a reason, we’re devastated losing him, but we need that void filled and you have the experience we may be looking for,’" Cavanaugh said. "We spent a week getting to know some of the coaches and players and letting [Saleh] get to know my, and we came to an agreement that this could work."
Cavanaugh likes what he sees from Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick out of BYU.
"Very impressed," Cavanaugh said. "You see a lot of young quarterbacks that come into the league that have arm strength and mobility, but for a young player, he has a real good awareness of what goes on on the other side of the football. When you’ve got a good understanding about what a defense is doing, you’re a step ahead.
"He’s got an attitude that is contagious," Cavanaugh said. "He works at it. He puts the time in in the film room, he’s not afraid to ask questions, and he takes accountability. That shows he has a lot of self-confidence. When a guy’s willing to admit (mistakes), he believes in himself."