SANTA CLARA – There are those who might think being Peyton Manning’s position coach is the easiest job in football.
After all, Manning seemingly has the craft above the shoulders mastered to the point that he can coax productivity and a Super Bowl season from a ragged right arm that can no longer make all the throws.
Greg Knapp, 52, has worked closely with Manning for the past three seasons as Denver Broncos quarterbacks coach and passing-game coordinator. He broke into the NFL with the 49ers at a time in which Steve Young and the 49ers were coming off a Super Bowl title.
It’s no easy task, Knapp has discovered, to coach players who rank among the all-time greats.
“I was more intimidated when I was young and trying to coach Steve Young, coming off a six-touchdown performance in the Super Bowl, than when I took the job here,” Knapp told CSNBayArea.com. “When I came in, I knew I was not here to watch him and praise him, I was here to coach him and correct him.
“Just like Steve, Peyton knows if it’s right or wrong. And if you don’t correct him or correct what you say to other players, he’ll hold you accountable for it because it means that much to him. That’s the challenging part.”
Knapp played quarterback at Sacramento State, then coached at his alma mater for nine years before George Seifert added him to his 49ers staff in 1995. Knapp spent his final three seasons of a nine-year run with the 49ers as offensive coordinator.
Knapp bounced around to coaching positions with Atlanta, Oakland (two separate stints) Seattle and Houston before finding some semblance of stability the past three seasons with Manning and the Broncos.
“He’s battled through all kinds of places and he’s a great quarterbacks coach,” Young said of Knapp. “He’s a calming influence. I can really appreciate why Peyton would love to have somebody like Greg around. Peyton doesn’t suffer any fool coach.
“Greg has been around a long time. He’s very respectful of the position and how hard it is to play, which is half of the battle. There are not a lot of great quarterback coaches -- there just aren’t. And he’s certainly one of them.”
Manning, 39, an 18-year veteran, said Knapp has been instrumental this season when the Broncos changed their offense in the transition to first-year coach Gary Kubiak. Knapp was a holdover from John Fox’s staff, but he worked previously with Kubiak when he was the Houston Texans’ head coach.
Knapp seems to be uniquely suited for the big stage of Super Bowl 50, as the Broncos enter Sunday’s game at Levi’s Stadium as an underdog to the Carolina Panthers.
“He’s an upbeat guy, positive on the sideline, very calm and collected,” Manning said. “On a two-minute drive or a timeout, he’s the same as he’d be during warmups in a preseason game. He has a calming effect.”
But quarterbacks, such as Young and Manning, also have a way of making Knapp feel more at ease because he knows they have done their homework.
“Their attention to detail is off the charts,” Knapp said. “Steve was always thinking, ‘What do I do on this play, what do I do on that play.’ Peyton is the same way.
“Peyton was trained in a offense that allowed for a lot of audibles and checks, which Steve was not. His approach is he wants to put our team in the perfect play every time. You’re not to going to be caught in too many bad plays because he’s going to fix them.”