JC Deep Dive: The new coaching staff
NY Jets Confidential|March 2021
Bringing Shanahan magic to Florham Park

Mike LaFleur, offensive coordinator

San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan valued passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur so much, he refused to allow him to leave to work for his brother, Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur, when he got the Packers heading coach job in 2019.

“I was never tempted,” Shanahan said. “It was very easy, and I looked forward to saying, ‘No,’ very quickly. As quick as I can. I mean, and I get the family stuff and everything, and I’m sure if things got pretty rough for a while, eventually I would’ve softened up and given in — maybe. But Mike’s my coordinator, and he does a hell of a job. He’s a really talented guy, and we put a lot of work in together. I feel very fortunate to have him this year, and I plan on staying that way until he gets a head coach job.”

Well, Shanahan actually softened his stance two years later when he let Mike LaFleur leave to become Robert Saleh’s offensive coordinator with the Jets.

LaFleur owes a lot to Shanahan. Following a few stops for LaFleur as a small-college assistant, Shanahan got him into the league in 2014 with the Cleveland Browns, where Shanahan was offensive coordinator. Then he followed Shanahan to Atlanta and on to San Francisco. So after several years of learning the Shanahan way, LaFleur brings this prized system to Florham Park, and Saleh is excited to have him.

“Everyone’s familiar with the whole Shanahan system and what (that’s) been able to create,” Saleh said. “Mike LaFleur has been with Kyle for eight years now of professional football, which has been his entire (NFL coaching) career, and nobody in the world knows (the Shanahan system) better than he does.”

So how would Saleh describe what LaFleur will be looking to do offensively?

“A lot of pre-snap movement, a lot of help for the quarterback, run mirroring with a pass, there’s going to be a clear identity of what we’re trying to accomplish down in and down out on the offensive side of the ball,” Saleh said. “So really excited about the vision that we have in place for the offensive side, and there’s no one better in the world than (LaFleur) to be able to do that.”

For the Mt. Pleasant, Mich., native and former Elmhurst College QB it’s all about never tipping his hand.

“The big thing is (the run and pass) need to marry up with each other; they need to look the same,” LaFleur said. “The way our offensive line comes off the ball in the run game is really no different than how they come off in the passing game, particularly on first and second downs. That’s everything for us and our philosophy in terms of marrying it up and making a defense not really know if it’s run or pass.”

Benton looking to get linemen into a zone

John Benton, offensive line coach

When it comes to offensive line play, John Benton knows from whence he speaks.

After starting for four years at Colorado State in the ’80s and making the Rams’ all-decade team, he followed that up by coaching the positions at various colleges and NFL locales for the last 37 years.

Not only has he been coaching the position for close to four decades, which will allow him to impart great blocking wisdom on the big fellas upfront, but also he has a Ph.D. in the Shanahanstyle zone-blocking scheme, an integral part of the system LaFleur is bringing to the Jets.

The blocking strategy Benton will be teaching isn’t a straightforward power scheme. In a nutshell, what often happens on running plays is the linemen all push the defenders in one direction, let’s say to the right, while the runner patiently waits for this to happen. Then he puts his foot in the ground, cuts against the grain, and heads upfield. The Shanahan scheme looks for more athletic linemen because it asks them to move laterally more than other systems.

So we get the idea that Benton is the right man for the job. This system requires a certain modus operandi for the linemen, and Benton knows the drill. Not only did he work on Shanahan’s staff the last four seasons in San Francisco, but worked from 2006-13 for Gary Kubiak in Houston. Kubiak is another Shanahan disciple, — Mike Shanahan, the grand poobah of this offense, which has been carried on by his son Kyle.

Along the way, Benton also coached offensive lines in Jacksonville, St. Louis, Miami, Colorado State, and a small school in Pennsylvania: California University. Yes, California University is in Pennsylvania.

The Durango, Colo., native is not only a good coach but gets high marks for how he treats people.

“He is an outstanding football coach, but even more important, he is an outstanding person,” said Sonny Lubick, his former boss at Colorado State. “John has been critical to the success that we have enjoyed at Colorado State through the years. He was respected as a player at Colorado State, and he had the same respect as a coach because of how he treated those he worked with.”

One of Long Island’s own joins Jets Nation

Rob Calabrese, quarterbacks coach

Even though the Jets play and train in New Jersey, Long Island is still an integral part of Jets Nation.

Their long history of training at Long Island’s Hofstra University and playing in Shea Stadium in Queens, not far from the Long Island border, led to them having a lot of fans on “The Island.”

To many in Jets Nation, the team’s new quarterbacks coach, Long Island native Rob Calabrese, is one of their own.

He’s also part of the Islip Football Mafia. Islip is a town in Long Island’s Suffolk County.

Calabrese played his high school football at East Islip High School, the alma mater of Boomer Esiason, a former Jets QB who was a mentor to Calabrese.

Calabrese played his college football at the University of Central Florida (2008-2012), under Central Islip native George O’Leary.

After graduating from UCF, Calabrese worked as a grad assistant on O’Leary’s staff for the Golden Knights.

He went on to coach on another island with a lot of Jets fans, on Staten Island at Wagner College.

“Some of Rob’s strengths are just the strengths of a great leader,” said former Wagner coach Jason Houghtaling. “He’s passionate about football, he’s loyal, he’s competitive, and he’s organized.”

Calabrese followed Wagner offensive coordinator Rich Scarangello to the Denver Broncos, where he served as a quality control coach.

And now Calabrese has landed a dream job, the QBs coach of his hometown Jets.

So if you hear a guy ordering “caw-fee” at the Florham Park Starbucks, it might be Calabrese, a true Long Island guy.

Just like so many Jets fans.

Knapp’s traveling QB teaching show

Gregg Knapp, passing game coordinator

Under Saleh, the Jets are certainly going to have the passing game covered.

Obviously they will have an offensive coordinator (LaFleur) overseeing their passing attack, along with a quarterbacks coach (Calabrese), but they will also have a passing game coordinator, and that will be 25-year NFL coaching veteran, Greg Knapp.

He has made many stops over the years, including coaching Peyton Manning in Denver, which might scare some Jets fans, but as far as we know, Manning had nothing to do with getting Knapp his current gig with the Jets.

Over the last quarter-century, Knapp has crisscrossed the United States coaching NFL quarterbacks or calling plays, with stops in Atlanta, Denver, Oakland, Houston, Seattle, and San Francisco.

In college, Knapp was a star signal-caller at Sacramento State, and after graduating, and a brief stint in camp as a quarterback with the Kansas City Chiefs, Knapp coached for nine years at his alma mater, before starting his long NFL coaching journey.

While Knapp is well-traveled, his first NFL stint was actually for nine straight years with San Francisco from 1996-2002, starting as a quality control coach, then promoted to QBs coach and then offensive coordinator.

In his role as passing game coordinator, the Long Beach, Calif., native will be a huge help to LaFleur and Calabrese, two guys doing their current job for the first time. LaFleur has never been an NFL OC before, and Calabrese has never been an NFL QBs coach before, so Knapp, who has done both jobs for many years, will be a great sounding board for these two young coaches.

Jersey guy comes home

Miles Austin, wide receivers coach

Miles Austin is coming home.

Born in Summit, N.J., minutes from Jets camp, Austin is a graduate of Garfield HS in Bergen County as well as the Monmouth University of the Jersey Shore. Now, this true Jersey guy gets to coach in Florham Park and East Rutherford, lording over the Jets’ wide receivers.

Austin is reunited with Saleh, with whom he worked on the 2019 San Francisco 49ers staff as an offensive quality control coach.

Austin left the 49ers after that one season, but stayed busy after being named to the Monmouth University Board of Trustees.

There is something in the water in Garfield when it comes to longshot receivers. First, that town produced former Jets great Wayne Chrebet, and then Austin, both undrafted free agents from 1-AA programs who went on to terrific careers.

During his career, mostly in Dallas, Austin had 301 catches and 34 touchdowns. He joined the Cowboys in 2006, but mainly played on special teams his first three seasons, but then due to an injury to a starter, he was called into action and had one of the greatest receiver games in Dallas history in a win over Kansas City, with 10 catches for 250 yards and two touchdowns. Talk about taking advantage of an opportunity!

Late in his career, during a one-year stint in Cleveland, Austin played under Shanahan, the offensive coordinator at the time. Shanahan really took a liking to him and ended up hiring him in San Francisco in 2019.

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