FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Longtime NFL assistant Matt Cavanaugh was walking off a golf course in South Carolina when he received word that his close friend Greg Knapp, the New York Jets' passing-game specialist, had been struck by a motorist while biking in California.
"I just sent him a text: 'Bro, I'm praying for you. You can pull through this,'" an emotional Cavanaugh recounted Thursday. "I found out later how serious it was. I was crushed."
Knapp, 58, died five days later, July 22. The Jets were counting on Knapp to tutor their young quarterbacks, led by second overall pick Zach Wilson. A few weeks later, they turned to Cavanaugh, who joined the team for a one-week trial period before accepting a full-time position. Under the circumstances, Cavanaugh acknowledged it wasn't easy.
"It was just a tragedy," he said. "I'm not here to replace him. I don't think I can replace him, but I promise I'll try to represent him well. I'll work hard, do the best I can and, hopefully, make him proud."
Cavanaugh and Knapp worked together on the San Francisco 49ers' staff in 1996. They became good friends and, although they never worked again on the same team, they always hung out at the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
"It was such a close relationship," said Cavanaugh, who was out of the NFL last season after working with the Washington Football Team from 2015 to 2019. "I was so stunned when the accident happened. I didn't imagine this [job] was a possibility. I wasn't even thinking about it.
"I know the organization went through weeks and weeks of trying to deal with it. When I first talked to coach [Robert] Saleh, he said, 'We brought him in for a reason. We're devastated losing him, but we still need that void filled and you have the experience we may be looking for, so why don't you spend a week with us?'"
Cavanaugh, 64, liked the vibe in the building and the chemistry on the coaching staff, so he signed on. This is his second stint with the Jets. He was the quarterbacks coach from 2009 to 2012, tutoring Mark Sanchez through the first four years of his career.
Cavanaugh will work under offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, who is the play caller. Cavanaugh said his main responsibility is to coach quarterback fundamentals and "chip in once in a while."