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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

All Gas, No Brakes: Remembering Greg Knapp From Those Who Knew Him

Aug 24, 2021 at 9:20 AM

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Greg Knapp, former college quarterback and longtime NFL assistant, was beloved by family, friends, and countless fans around the NFL. Tragically, his life was taken too soon when a driver hit him on July 17th while he was riding his bike in San Ramon, California.

Greg's collegiate athletic career started at Sacramento State University, where he found success on and off the field. He was a distinguished passer on the gridiron, racking up more than 3,800 yards and 32 touchdowns. After graduating, he found his way to NFL training camps with the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Raiders, and San Francisco 49ers. Later in his life he found his purpose as a coach. His influence as an NFL coach is widely known, but Knapp continually made an impact on those around him outside the game of football as well.

After Greg's recent memorial service, I sat down with one of his friends from college. She recalled how Greg, a sophomore backup quarterback, got a large number of his Sacramento State football teammates to attend a women's volleyball game. "Greg was a leader, wherever he went," remembers Tomi Aroz. Her story included details about Greg not only getting his teammates to show up, but teaching them the rules of volleyball and getting them to participate in organized cheers. Before long, the entire stands were led by Knapp, creating an electric atmosphere. Many of the volleyball players made comments after the game that it was the most fun they had ever had playing the game. The volleyball coach found his way down the athletic hallways at Sac State to thank football coach Bob Mattos for making his players attend the game, but everyone, including Bob, knew it was all Greg. His attitude about coaching and life was summed up by the slogan on the wristbands handed out at his memorial, "All Gas, No Brakes."

Knapp wouldn't let his NFL dream die, and each summer he would try out again for NFL teams. He spent time as the scout team quarterback for the Chiefs, 49ers, and Raiders. His colleagues at Sacramento State would often wonder why he would continue to go back. Greg said he kept going back to soak up every piece of information he could from the professional teams he was around, attending every meeting he could, talking to every player and coach. He was preparing for the next step in his football life. Knapp moved on from professional football and coached for nine years at Sacramento State, exclusively on the offensive side of the ball. He coached running backs, wide receivers, quarterbacks and eventually became the Offensive Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach.

Eventually, in 1995, Knapp rose the ranks to Head Coach for Sacramento State, but that only lasted for four weeks, without ever having coached a game, because the NFL and the San Francisco 49ers came calling. George Seifert gave him his shot as an offensive quality control coach, and he spent the next nine years in varying positions with the team, eventually rising to the position of offensive coordinator for three seasons under head coach Steve Mariucci from 2001-2003.

During Knapp's time with the 49ers, former Sacramento State assistant coach Bob Visger remembers Greg coming back to Sac State to help his former team. In the NFL, teams will often give their players and coaches a day off during the week. For Greg and the 49ers, it was Tuesday. Coach Visger remembers Coach Knapp would spend those Tuesdays for 8+ hours with the Sac State coaching staff, walking them through what it takes to run an NFL franchise. He would go over how to break down film, how to delegate game plan preparation, meal plan prep, and what a strength and conditioning plan should look like in the weight room. Coach Visger told me

"Greg didn't have to be there. This was his day off, and he was spending it helping us get better. That was the type of guy he was. He was an incredible friend and a true professional. His sayings like 'Dictate and Dominate', 'it's not about what you coach and say, it's about what you emphasize' are sayings I took from Greg and still use in my daily life whether I'm coaching or teaching. They will stay with me for the rest of my life."

In total, Knapp spent 25 years coaching in the NFL. The 2021 season brought him a new challenge to tackle, having been hired by former 49ers defensive coordinator, and first year New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh, as his quarterbacks coach. This was an important hire for Saleh because Knapp was widely respected in NFL circles for his work with quarterbacks. His résumé included coaching quarterbacks who have played in a combined 11 Pro Bowls, and he had five different 4,000-yard passers: Steve Young (1998), Jeff Garcia (2000), Carson Palmer (2012), Peyton Manning (2013-14), and Matt Ryan (2018).

Knapp occasionally met on Zoom with current and former friends and coaches to catch up, lovingly bust each other's chops, and discuss football. On his last Zoom call with Greg, he told Coach Visger how excited he was about the Jets' drafting of Zach Wilson, a player he helped evaluate and encouraged the team to draft. "He doesn't need a platform to throw off of," Knapp said."If I'm going out, I'm going out with someone I picked," resulting in a big laugh from those on the Zoom call. Coach Visger also made a point to share how Greg had a great sense of humor, and that when coaching with him, you knew you were in the presence of someone special.

Greg Knapp was special. Everyone loved him.

He will be missed.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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