FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — In what is becoming an annual tragicomedy, the New York Jets admitted another huge organizational blunder, firing coach Adam Gase after only two years. It was a questionable hire that turned into an 9-23 disaster. You know things are bad when you’re clowned in a “Saturday Night Live” skit, which happened last month.
As the Jets begin the all-too-familiar process of searching for a new leader, they would be wise to follow three points of advice:
1. Ignore any recommendations from Peyton Manning.
2. Let general manager Joe Douglas do the hiring.
3. Find the anti-Gase.
Let’s explain No. 3.
In 2019, the Jets were narrow in their search, as they sought to find an offensive-minded coach who could turn quarterback Sam Darnold into a star. Basically, they got caught up in the “Next Sean McVay” syndrome that was sweeping the league. How they came up with Gase, who had just been fired by the Miami Dolphins, is a question that will haunt the franchise for years. The point is that they were so fixated with one aspect of the job that they ignored the most important qualities for a head coach:
The ability to teach. The ability to lead the entire team.
Gase channeled his efforts toward one person — Darnold. He was so obsessed with coaching Darnold that he only paid attention to the offense, letting Gregg Williams be the “head coach” of the defense. That singular focus earned the respect of Manning back in their Denver days, when Gase was the Broncos’ offensive coordinator, but that is no way to run an entire franchise.
There’s always a natural divide between offense and defense, but it was more pronounced under Gase than with any previous Jets regime. That separation of power was on display during the infamous “Cover 0 blitz” fiasco in Week 13, which cost Williams his job. Yes, Williams made the call, but Gase did nothing to stop it. They both committed coaching malpractice.
Gase’s idea of coaching is sitting in a dark office until all hours of the night, grinding through video and cooking up ways to move the football. That’s how he got his start as a Michigan State undergrad, doing grunt work for Spartans coach Nick Saban. Coaching is a lot more than that; it’s a people business.
In the end, he failed in his area of expertise, as the Jets ranked 32nd in total yards for the second straight season. Some perspective: That would be like hiring “the next” Emeril Lagasse and being served takeout every night.
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Gase’s shortcomings stretched beyond the failure of the offense. He didn’t connect with the locker room, resulting in unhappy players (Jamal Adams, Le’Veon Bell, et al) and ugly injury disputes. (In fairness, let’s give him credit for recognizing Bell was a bad investment, but no one in the organization listened to him.) One player told ESPN recently, “[Gase] won’t take the blame for anything.”
In a late-November practice, Gase and guard Alex Lewis got into a heated exchange. Lewis questioned Gase’s desire to win, said one source, adding that Lewis articulated in front of the team what every player was thinking but was afraid to say.
It’s too bad because, in private settings, Gase showed a lot of personality, including a sense of humor that rarely came out in public. He never endeared himself to the fan base, which turned on him after his bizarre introductory news conference.
In one respect, Gase got a raw deal. This isn’t to defend his performance — his record stinks, no matter which way you smell it — but he was given an expansion-level roster by Douglas, who cashed out on the season when he traded Adams in July.
What the Jets need now is a strong leader, someone who will embrace the idea of being the face of the franchise and someone who can handle adversity. There will be plenty of it because — well, these are the Jets, and nothing ever comes easy. It doesn’t matter if he coaches offense, defense or special teams. Leadership shouldn’t be put in a box.
Because the Jets are a young, rebuilding team, the new coach must be able to teach and develop talent. He must galvanize, not divide. He must be a motivator. He must strike the right balance between disciplinarian and players’ coach. Offensive coordinators Eric Bieniemy (Kansas City Chiefs) and Brian Daboll (Buffalo Bills), along with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh (San Francisco 49ers), check the necessary boxes.
Ironically, Gase’s biggest supporter — Darnold — is the person he failed the most. In his January 2019 interview with CEO Christopher Johnson and former GM Mike Maccagnan, Gase convinced them he was a quarterback whisperer. Remember Johnson’s now-infamous line from Gase’s introductory news conference? He’s coaching to where football is going. Maybe that’s what Manning told Johnson when he called to recommend Gase for the job. In retrospect, Johnson should have let it go to voicemail.
Now there’s a good chance Darnold will be replaced by a draft pick, which means starting over. Again. Yeah, they really messed up Darnold by building a poor infrastructure. Some of the blame falls on Douglas, who has acknowledged he failed to supply adequate personnel. A lot of it falls on Maccagnan, who left only crumbs in the cupboard.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is why the Jets are the Jets, why they haven’t made the playoffs in 10 years and why they haven’t reached the Super Bowl in a half-century. Even when they have a good thing, they screw it up with bad coaching, bad roster-building, general incompetence or all of the above. Sadly, the Jets might never know what Darnold could have been.
Gase, Douglas and Johnson, subbing for brother/U.S. ambassador Woody Johnson, have plunged this star-crossed franchise into its biggest stupor since the Rich Kotite Daze (1995-96). Let’s not forget about Maccagnan, who had a big say in the decision to hire Gase. He wound up getting ousted in a power struggle with Gase, who convinced Johnson to hire Douglas.
That was 2019’s drama. Like I said, this is becoming an annual thing.
This time, the Johnsons should step aside and let Douglas make the call, because at least he’s an experienced football man with a knowledge of the league. There’s no guarantee he will get it right, of course. The Jets usually find a way to mess it up. Round and round they go.