With the 2015 season over, let's take a look back at the job the coaching staff did this season.
We will use the terrific John B Grading System to do that.
A: Exceptional; far above average
B: Above Average
Todd Bowles; Grade: B+
I think there was a lot to like out of a guy in the first year of his first NFL head coaching job.
Ultimately you are judged in the NFL by your record. Bowles' was 10-6. I think just about anybody would have signed up for that before the season. If you went into this season saying the Jets were an 11 win team and that 10-6 would be underachieving, I say lovingly that you were probably a huge homer.
This wasn't any 10-6. It was 10-6 by a first year head coach who inherited a 4-12 team. Ok, you are right. This Jets team was much more talented. They spent big to overhaul the disaster that was the 2014 secondary. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall were huge additions on offense. The rest of the league gifted the Jets Leonard Williams in the Draft. This was not a 4 win roster. That is true, but it was a roster of pieces that had never played together before. There are plenty of collections of overhauled rosters that look talented on paper. It isn't always easy to mold the parts into a team. The Jets had to build a new system and find everybody a role.
He hired an effective coaching staff with one notable exception who we will discuss below. If you think that was easy, just take a look back at some of the comments from a year ago upset the Jets hired Chan Gailey when Kyle Shanahan was available. Late this season, I ventured over to SB Nation's Falcons blog and saw a number of people expressing frustration about how much Gailey was getting out of the Jets offense while the Falcons were stuck with Shanahan.
Bowles also knew which buttons to push when the team faced difficult times. After the ugly IK Enempkali situation, the Jets promptly cut Enempkali. He was out of the building shortly, and a replacement was signed. It was a decisive action that showed what type of behavior would not be tolerated.
After a loss to Houston dropped the Jets to 5-5, the normally calm Bowles ripped into his team. It's one thing to yell at your players. It doesn't always work. It did for the Jets. They won their next five games.
The Jets also cut Quinton Coples, a player who had been a starter at the beginning of the year, before their next game. Coples had underachived. There is a happy medium a coach has to strike. You don't want to constantly make changes every time a player has a rough stretch. It isn't healthy for players to constantly be looking over their shoulders afraid to make a mistake. This is also recipe to not put the most effective players on the field. The guy you benched might work through his rough stretch and be the best option later in the season. At the same time, a coach has to show that there are consequences for long-term unsatisfactory performance. Guys had better work hard, or their jobs will not be safe. It seems like Bowles struck that correct medium with the way he handled Coples along with the reductions of playing time guys like Demario Davis and Jeff Cumberland saw. Bowles stuck with some other players through rough stretches who rewarded him.
What can Bowles do better? His game management could use a bit of work. There were a few instances where he got too conservative. This seems overblown, though. I can't think of a single game the Jets lost because of a game management decision Bowles made. People point to not kicking field goals in the fourth quarter of the first game against the Bills as a bad decision. Well, a few days earlier the Falcons lost to the 49ers 17-16. Atlanta had a fourth and goal with under 3:00 left in that game trailing 17-13. They kicked a field goal. Head coach Dan Quinn was criticized for not going for the touchdown. Most decisions coaches make are justifiable. Whether it was a stupid decision tends to be determined by how the rest of the game goes.
I cannot go to A for a grade for Bowles because of the way the season ended. With a Playoff spot on the line, the Jets lost to a Bills team that had been eliminated two weeks earlier. In that game, there were a number of questionable decisions with the gameplan. Still, 10 wins in year one is a very good start.
We will see what the future holds for Bowles. A number of recent Jets coaches got their careers off to promising starts in the first season only to not sustain that success. It is tough to win 10 in the NFL. It is a lot tougher still to stay at that level every season.
Chan Gailey; Grade: B+
Being an offensive coordinator for an NFL team has to be the most miserable job in the world. For most fans, the intricacies of defense make it too difficult to fully understand a defensive scheme. Every single fan in the NFL thinks they know how to call offensive plays, though, and that they can do it better than their team's coach. The coordinator job also seems thankless. If a play results in a red zone touchdown, it tends to be because the wide receiver is a beast. If it fails, it is because the coordinator called a stupid play.
To be sure, I think there are certain games where you can get on Gailey's situational playcalling. The end result of the offense was better than anybody could have reasonably expected, though.
I think part of the credit to Gailey has to go for any role he played in getting Ryan Fitzpatrick to the Jets. One can only imagine Gailey's recommendation played a role in the team's decision to trade for Fitzpatrick since he had coached the quarterback in Buffalo. The Jets did not have a good quarterback situation when the new coaching staff arrived. They found a guy who fit what they wanted to do on offense, and they got him for next to nothing.
There is one other thing I would like to say about Gailey. One of the big things I look at to determine the quality of coaching is what they get out of individual players. Here is what I mean by that. Brandon Marshall is a star. He has enormous talent. No matter what role you put him in, he will have success. Most players are not like that. They have more limited skillsets. They do some things well and other things poorly. Good coaching puts them into roles where their talents are utilized and their limitations are minimized.
I think about Quincy Enunwa. He is not an explosive enough athlete or a good enough route runner to succeed as an outside receiver. He is a good blocker, though. Those skills developed in a run heavy college offense. He also has a combination of size and speed that make him a difficult matchup in the passing game for interior guys. He's too fast for linebackers and too big for smaller inside defensive backs. The Jets turned him into a tight end. He became a real weapon as a blocker and started to make plays as a receiver near the end of the season.
I think about Bilal Powell. Powell had an unremarkable career before this season, but the Jets finally found a niche for him as a receiver near the end of the season. He became a big part of the passing game, and the team surely missed him when he was hurt in the final game of the season.
Eric Decker is closer to star than role player, but sticking him in the slot was a brilliant move. He used his size, physicality, and route running ability to toast defenses all season. Decker had the entire field to work with. Now that he wasn't running parallel to the sideline, he could cut in any direction. With the attention Marshall was drawing, defenses could not commit a ton of resources to stopping Decker either.
Kacy Rodgers; Grade: B+
It is difficult to tell where Bowles' influence ends, and Rodgers' begins on the defense, but the Jets had a very successful defensive season. There were a lot of new parts, and the team incorporated them well.
The team was adaptable with its scheme. When Sheldon Richardson's suspension ended, the team started playing four defensive lineman fronts more to get its excess talent on the field together. They were not afraid to increase playing time for players who flashed promise and decrease playing time for guys who were not effective. They also squeezed production out of backup level players. Rontez Miles comes to mind. The defense took a clear hit when Calvin Pryor was injures. Miles didn't have the same impact on the back end of the defense, but he performed admirably for a guy off the practice squad. Part of that was coaching putting him into roles he could perform.
There were a few hiccups for the defense during the season. Marcus Williams starting in Oakland wasn't an inspired decision in hindsight, although it was quickly corrected to the credit of the coaches. Darrelle Revis only had two really bad games, but they both came against offenses that only had one legitimate weapon. There probably should have been more of an effort to help him in those games.
I don't think you can say this unit underachived, though. It was a successful first year.
Bobby April; Grade: F
April has already been fired so I don't want to pile on him too much.
Part of the issue was personnel. One of the biggest front office failures was the lack of quality return options. With that said, there was no reason for April to make some of the choices he did. You need returners who are explosive in space. April for some reason thought a slow power back in Zac Stacy was his best option for far too long.
I am not sure how many of the breakdowns and blown assignments you can blame on the front office either. You cannot tell me there is a big difference in the quality of special teams players the Jets ran out there with most other teams.
How much of the problems were on coaching was unclear, but the special teams coaching the Jets got sure did not provide many solutions.