FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — One week after a front-office shake-up that confirmed a chasm in the organization and resulted in ugly fallout and behind-the-scenes finger-pointing from rival factions, the New York Jets will attempt to make themselves whole and rebuild their credibility with a hire that will define CEO Christopher Johnson’s legacy.
They need a general manager. He has to be a shrewd talent evaluator. He has to be a forward thinker. He has to be a strong leader. He has to be compatible with coach Adam Gase. What he can’t be is a yes man to Gase.
Anybody know someone who fits the description?
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The Jets have put themselves in a difficult situation, and they can’t blame anyone but themselves. How they got to this point is yesterday’s news. What’s important is what comes next. For better or worse, Johnson sided with Gase over former GM Mike Maccagnan in their family feud, and now it’s on Johnson as the leader of the franchise to maximize Gase’s chances for success. He can do that by hiring someone who knows and can work with Gase. To pair him with a stranger (again) would be too much of a risk.
“Arranged marriages rarely work,” an opposing general manager said this week.
The Jets should know that by now, considering their track record with failed coach-GM unions: Rex Ryan-John Idzik (a 12-20 record), Todd Bowles-Maccagnan (24-40) and Gase-Maccagnan (0-0). The franchise employed a search firm for the Idzik hire and used consultants Charley Casserly and Ron Wolf for Bowles-Maccagnan — a couple of Casserly associates from his NFL past. The only thing Bowles and Maccagnan had in common, other than Casserly, was they were born and raised in New Jersey.
This time, the Jets will conduct their own search, with Johnson, Gase and Hymie Elhai leading the way. Elhai, the senior vice president of business affairs and general counsel, has a respected voice within the organization. In terms of a football background, Gase will be the only person in the room who qualifies.
Johnson, on the job for only two years as the acting owner, finds himself on a slippery slope — and as a heli-skier, he knows treacherous slopes. He must appease his coach while finding a free-thinking GM who won’t allow himself to be pushed around by Gase — who might or might not see himself as the de facto GM. On Monday, Gase insisted he just wants to coach the team, nothing more. Good idea, considering his personnel record with the Miami Dolphins, where he had control over a mediocre roster.
Named the Jets’ interim GM, Gase has made a handful of roster moves in recent days, but none of them qualifies as a franchise-altering move. So, no, this isn’t Alexander Haig running around the White House and declaring: “I’m in charge.”
The most successful teams work in a collaborative manner, with the top decision-makers philosophically aligned. The Jets haven’t had that kind of simpatico arrangement since Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum, who enjoyed playoff runs in 2009 and 2010 before things went sideways. Speaking at the NFL owners meetings in late March, Gase admitted he needs time to get comfortable with a new GM, saying it wasn’t until his third year in Miami that he felt in sync with Chris Grier. Was he trying to send a message?
Johnson can eliminate the feeling-out period by hiring someone already familiar with Gase — perhaps Joe Douglas, the Philadelphia Eagles‘ vice president of player personnel. Douglas is a well-respected talent evaluator with experience in college and pro scouting. He’s “a big part of our scouting process,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Tuesday. The word in league circles is Gase wants Douglas, but the Jets owe it to themselves to explore all options.
I spoke with high-ranking officials from three different teams, and they all said chemistry will be paramount for the Jets’ hire. Look around the league at the teams who hired the GM after the coach and you’ll notice a common denominator: They worked together previously.
In 2018, the Houston Texans hired Brian Gaine, who already had a relationship with coach Bill O’Brien because he had worked previously as a Texans personnel executive. In 2018, the Carolina Panthers hired Marty Hurney after a year as the interim GM, but he had served a previous stint as the GM and actually was involved in the hiring of longtime coach Ron Rivera. The Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens hired Brett Veach and Eric DeCosta in 2017 and 2019, respectively, but they came up through their respective organizations under the current coach.
The Jets’ situation mirrors that of the Buffalo Bills, who fired Doug Whaley immediately after the 2017 draft — and only four months after hiring Sean McDermott as coach. (Owner Terry Pegula’s statement read a lot like Johnson’s “deep dive” comment: “After a thorough review of our football operation over the past several months … “) After interviewing four candidates, the Bills opted for Brandon Beane, in large part because he knew McDermott from five years together in the Panthers organization. After years of dysfunction, the Bills finally seem to have it together.
The only outlier is the Oakland Raiders, whose GM (Mike Mayock) was hired after a coach (Jon Gruden) with whom he had no prior working relationship. The jury is still out there.
The Jets are riding with Gase, and you certainly can question the wisdom behind that decision. To make it work and to reverse years of poor decisions, they need to give him a co-pilot who won’t tempt him to push the “eject” button. And, well, vice versa.