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Looking at Adam Gase’s History with Quarterbacks

Miami Dolphins v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

I’m not a fan of this hire at all. I’ll be completely honest. I recently ranked Adam Gase as my least favorite option out of the eight rumored candidates in play for the Jets head coaching job. And I stand by that - I preferred Matt Rhule or Todd Monken and am flabbergasted just by the way this search panned out as much as I am by the final result.

With that said, I’m an optimist, and Gase is now the head coach of the New York Jets. I’ve done a lot of (very) deep digging to try and find some reasons to be optimistic about Gase.

Obviously, his most important task will be developing Sam Darnold. The Jets are under pressure to win while he is on his cheap rookie deal. The window is now. Gase, commonly pushed as an innovative offensive mind, did not have much success in building a feared offense as the head man in Miami. Whether or not he can do what needs to be done with Darnold and this Jets offense is a major, major question mark.

I decided to look back at Gase’s coaching history in the NFL, taking a look at some of his best work over the years, specifically at the quarterback position. There were some positives, so bear with me!

In 2008, after four years as an assistant in Detroit with the Lions, Gase was promoted to quarterbacks coach.

His starter that season was the 35-year old Jon Kitna, who had gone 5-14 as a starter over his previous three seasons.

Kitna had a renaissance season of sorts under Gase. While he led the league in interceptions with 20, Gase led Kitna to then career highs of 7.3 yards per attempt (11th in the NFL that year) and a 63% completion percentage. It went down as the best yards per attempt rate relative to league average he posted in his career (out of his eleven seasons with 100+ passes).

Detroit ranked 16th in the NFL in scoring - in his fifteen NFL seasons, Kitna never led a team to more than the 346 points he led the Lions to in 2007. Kitna led the Lions to seven wins, two more than he had over the previous three years, and three more than he would gain over the following four years to close his career.

Gase left Detroit for San Francisco following the 2007 season. Kitna started the first four games of the 2008 season for the Lions, and his numbers dipped below his career averages across the board. Kitna went down with a season-ending injury, and the Lions ended up going 0-16.

Gase was an offensive assistant for the 49ers in 2008.

The Niners started the season with J.T. O’Sullivan at quarterback. While O’Sullivan struggled with turnovers and San Francisco started out 2-6 under him, he did throw for 7.6 yards per attempt, which would’ve been 9th in the NFL that season. Those two victories by O’Sullivan were the only ones he ever claimed in his eight-year NFL career.

San Francisco turned to Shaun Hill for the second half of the season. He was surprisingly solid, throwing 13 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, and 227 yards per game at 7.1 yards per attempt as he led the 49ers to a 5-3 record.

Hill posted an 87.5 passer rating that season, 12th best in the NFL, and better than Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Brett Favre, and Ben Roethlisberger. It ended up as the best passer rating of Hill’s career in a season in which he threw at least 200 passes. It was also a career-high for victories and his only season with a winning record.

Gase went to Denver and spent two seasons as the Broncos wide receivers coach from 2009-10.

In 2009, Brandon Marshall scored a then career high 10 touchdowns under Gase, while posting a still-standing career high 65.6% catch rate. Marshall would head to Miami following that season, and scored a combined 9 touchdowns over his first two seasons without Gase.

In 2010, 29-year old Brandon Lloyd, in his eighth NFL season, led the league in receiving yards with 1,448 while adding 11 touchdowns. Those totals nearly doubled his previous career bests of 733 and 6, respectively. Lloyd had a combined 860 yards and 2 touchdowns over his previous four seasons before pairing up with Gase.

Gase transitioned to quarterbacks coach in 2011. Lloyd was traded for a sixth-round pick only four games into the year, and would never hit 1,000 yards or double-digit touchdowns again over his final four years in the league.

As mentioned, Gase became the quarterbacks coach in Denver in 2011 and held the position into 2012 as well.

Six games into the 2011 season, his second year in the NFL, Tim Tebow took the reigns for the Broncos and started off a run that seems more unfathomable each and every year.

Of course, Tebow is not and never was an NFL player. It was always going to be a challenge to make him one, and his lack of development is tough to blame on coaches. He was an athlete playing quarterback banking off of the big name that he built for himself in college.

Still, with Gase as his quarterbacks coach, Tebow somehow managed one successful NFL season. Tebow completed an insanely terrible 46.5% of his passes in the 2011 regular season - but managed a ratio of 12 touchdown passes to 6 interceptions while ranking fourth in the NFL with a 13.7 yards per completion average. He went 7-4 as a starter in the regular season that year, leading Denver to the AFC West title. He capped it off with a playoff victory over the Steelers - in which he completed 40.4% of his passes.

Gase faced a polar opposite challenge the following season. Tebow became a Jet, and Peyton Manning, two years Gase’s elder, came in at quarterback.

In his first season back, Manning led the NFL in completion percentage, net yards per pass attempt (adjusts for sack yardage), and QBR (ESPN) while the Broncos averaged over 30 points per game, second best in the NFL. It was one of only two times Manning led the league in completion percentage, the previous time in the 2003 season. Manning also posted a 105.8 passer rating, second best in his career to that point.

Gase became the Broncos offensive coordinator in 2013. While we can never know for sure just how much of a part Gase played in the output, there’s no questioning that his first season in a major coaching position was a massive success.

The Broncos scored 606 points (37.9 per game) in Gase’s first season at offensive coordinator. It remains the most points ever scored by a team in a single regular season.

Peyton Manning threw for still standing single-season records of 5,477 yards and 55 touchdown passes. It was the only season of his career in which he threw for over 300 yards per game. He also led the league in net passing yards per attempt for the second straight season, doing that for the first time since 2004-05. He posted a 115.1 passer rating, which ended up as the second-best mark of his career. Manning posted two of his top three career passer ratings under Gase in 2012 and 2013.

2014 was not quite as record-smashing, but the Broncos still averaged over 30 points per game for the third straight season.

Gase left for Chicago after 2014. In their first season without Gase, the Broncos won the Super Bowl. However, the offense fell off a cliff without him. Denver fell to 19th in scoring and 25th in offense DVOA without Gase. They only scored 30 offensive points once all season, including the playoffs. Manning hit the wall as soon as Gase left, posting a career-worst 67.9 passer rating in the regular season followed by a playoff run in which he threw for only two touchdowns and under six yards per attempt.

Gase spent one season in 2015 as the offensive coordinator for the Bears.

That season, Jay Cutler posted a 92.3 passer rating, which ended up as the best mark of his career and the only season in which he eclipsed a 90.0+ rating. He ranked 9th in the league in passing DVOA. He also posted career highs of 4 game-winning drives and 6.71 adjusted net yards per pass attempt (adjusts for sack yardage and interceptions).

Chicago ranked 10th in offense DVOA under Gase in 2015, an improvement off of their rank of 14th in 2014.

The season following Gase’s exit, the Bears dipped to 17th in offense DVOA and scored only 17.4 points per game, over three points per game fewer than the 20.9 average they held under Gase. Cutler started only five games and posted the second-worst passer rating and worst QBR of his career.

Of course, Gase was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins from 2016-18.

Gase inherited Ryan Tannehill, who was going into his fifth NFL season at age 28.

Tannehill was off to a tremendous start under Gase. Over his thirteen starts in 2016, Tannehill set career highs in passer rating, yards per attempt, net yards per attempt, adjusted net yards per attempt, completion percentage, touchdown percentage, and most importantly, win percentage, as Tannehill went 8-5. It is starting to seem increasingly possible that 2016 could go down as the only season in Tannehill’s career in which he posted a winning record as a starter.

Matt Moore took over for the final three games of the season (his first NFL starts in five years) and went 2-1 to lead Miami into the playoffs. In his three regular season games, Moore threw for 8 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and averaged 8.3 yards per attempt, culminating in a 105.6 passer rating. Among his six career seasons in which he started multiple games, Moore set career highs in passer rating, yards per attempt, completion percentage, and touchdown percentage. Moore also had a decent playoff game, completing 29 of 36 passes for 289 yards, 1 score, and 1 pick.

The downfall started in 2017. After Ryan Tannehill went down for the season, Gase reunited with Jay Cutler, who came right out of the FOX booth to the field. Cutler looked washed and threw for a career-low 6.2 yards per attempt.

Still, despite Cutler being old, gimpy, and at the end of the line, Gase somehow dragged him up to 23rd out of 32 in passer rating, and won six games with a team that easily could’ve won two or three. A 30+ year old quarterback as poor relative to league average in yards per attempt and interception percentage as Cutler was has never won more games in a season than the six he picked up under Gase in 2017.

Tannehill returned in 2018 at age 30. He clearly wasn’t the same, as in spite of his impressive passer rating (92.7), he had the worst QBR in the league, revealing his hidden struggles.

In addition to a depleted Tannehill, Gase also had to deal with Brock Osweiler starting a few games. Gase did help Osweiler post career a best 63.5% completion percentage and had him playing his most efficient football since his “breakout” 2015 season in Denver, while managing two wins in his five starts (one against the Bears), but Osweiler was still terrible overall.

My best case for Gase’s Miami tenure is that you can make the claim he had to deal with terrible quarterback play that hampered his ability to maximize his offensive vision and build a competent winner - while at the same time exceeding the expectations that the performances of his subpar quarterbacks would set.

Gase’s record exceeded the level of his quarterback play each year he spent in Miami. We’ll use ESPN’s QBR here, since it does a better job capturing overall impact than passer rating.

In 2016, healthy Ryan Tannehill ranked 24th in QBR. The Dolphins went 10-6, tying them for the 9th best record in the NFL. Miami had the league’s 14th ranked DVOA offense.

In 2017, with wrinkly Jay Cutler ranking 26th in QBR, Miami went 6-10, tying them for the 22nd best record in the NFL.

In 2018, Tannehill ranked 32nd in QBR. The Dolphins went 7-9, tying them for the 17th best record in the NFL.

A couple more interesting tidbits for you. Gase has four times moved on from the staff of one NFL team to another. Each of the four teams Gase left scored fewer points per game the season after he left them than they did in his final season with them.

Four of the five times Gase was promoted to either quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator, or head coach, Gase’s team improved its scoring average over their previous season.

This is a tough hire to sell. There’s no other way to put it. However, I’ll give Gase this. I do think he has done a fairly impressive job maximizing his quarterbacks at almost every step of the way. Everywhere he went, quarterbacks either set career bests, won more often than they should have, or did both.

Has Gase developed a quality young quarterback yet? No. However, has he gotten a legitimate chance to? Who do you think he should have developed? The mediocre 28-year old in Miami who already had four seasons under his belt (and actually did progress under Gase prior to injury)? Tebow?

Gase hasn’t had a prospect remotely like Darnold yet. He seems to have a quality track record of maximizing what he has been given in the quarterback room. The only other uber-talented quarterback Gase got to work with - albeit a substantially more proven player than Darnold at a much later stage of his career - ended up leading the highest scoring offense in NFL history. If Gase can translate to the most intriguing young passing talent he’s ever coached what he has done with veterans, then maybe, just maybe, this thing could work.

There were a lot of other ways I would’ve rather seen the team go. Almost any other way, actually. Regardless, as a fan of the team and someone who spends a substantial amount of time covering them, I’m going to root for Gase and do my best to believe in him.


Feeling more optimistic?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Much more so
    (309 votes)
  • 46%
    A little bit
    (607 votes)
  • 11%
    Not really
    (151 votes)
  • 0%
    Fire Gase
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    (10 votes)
  • 16%
    (209 votes)
1293 votes total Vote Now