Unless something unforeseen happens, Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills will not be Adam Gase’s final game as head coach of the New York Jets. Whether right or wrong, Gase currently seems to have the faith of Christopher Johnson.
This news distresses a large portion of the fan base. If the team sticks with Gase, is there any room for hope?
I think most assessments of Gase would conclude that he is not a very good coach at this point in time. His record is 29-35 with one trip to the Playoffs in four years. He was one and done in that one postseason trip. Additionally, his teams have struggled in the area of his expertise, the offense.
But human beings are capable of growth. That includes NFL coaches. Throughout the season, media members friendly to Gase have pointed to the early career struggles of legendary coaches such as Tom Landry, Bill Belichick, and others.
I’m not sure how realistic those comparisons are. It might be a bit much to expect Gase to evolve into a Hall of Fame coach, but he doesn’t necessarily need to become one. A more realistic reference might be Ron Rivera. Rivera has spoken openly about evolving during his tenure with the Carolina Panthers. He turned into a quality coach and had success there. Maybe Joe Douglas is as good as the hype and is capable of building an elite roster around his quarterback. Maybe Sam Darnold is also as good as the hype. The Jets might not need a legendary head coach, just a good one.
How does Gase get to good? It is a long path, but these are four steps that would encourage me in the year ahead.
Get rid of the yes man/men
The reasons Todd Bowles failed as head coach of the New York Jets are numerous. From the outside looking in, it seemed like one of the biggest reasons was that he put a friendship before the best interests of his football team.
Kacy Rodgers was ill-equipped to be the Jets’ defensive coordinator. Yet he was allowed to remain year after year even as Bowles was firing moderately successful offensive coordinators.
Dowell Loggains does not have a great track record of success in the NFL. Yet he serves both as the offensive coordinator of the Jets and as the position coach of the most important player on the team, Sam Darnold. His biggest qualification for the job seems to be simply that Gase likes him.
The Jets offense has totally stalled in 2019. In any normal situation, the offensive coordinator would be fired after a season like this. There is no way Gregg Williams or Brant Boyer would be around for 2020 if the defense or special teams on the Jets performed the way the offense has.
While it might be difficult personally, Gase needs to put the team before his relationships. There is no culture of accountability on a team if exceptions are made for friendships.
It is time for Gase to assess his coaching staff. Although I spoke about Loggains, it goes for everybody. No coach should be employed on this team unless he’s the best available person at his craft. Personal relationships should not be the determining factor in employment.
Hire a real offensive coordinator
Adam Gase has noted that he likes to be hands on with his offense. So do other head coaches in the NFL. Some coaches have proven they are capable of handling head coaching duties while serving as a de facto offensive coordinator. Gase has shown no sign he is one of them. In four years as a head coach, he has never had an offense in the top half of the league in scoring. He is on his way to a third consecutive bottom seven finish.
It is time for Gase to decide whether he wants to be a head coach or an offensive coordinator in this league. I presume the answer is head coach. That means it is time for him to hire somebody to run the offense and empower that person to do the job.
Gase has not shown himself to be a particularly great game planner or play caller on offense. Throughout 2019 there were also a number of little things on the Jets that slipped between the cracks that the head coach should have been on top of.
One could argue that in trying to do both jobs, Gase has done neither effectively.
Stop making excuses
A few weeks back Gase made a comment that bothered me.
Things didn’t work out for us this year. We couldn’t get things rolling in the right direction. We lose our quarterback for three games, it set us back, we just could never keep a core group of guys healthy long enough to gain that chemistry.
Every NFL team is hit with surprises beyond its control. Sometimes these surprises hurt the team. Nobody is questioning the Jets have been harmed by injuries this season. Sam Darnold missing three games was clearly a negative for this team.
The uncertainties of the league make it important for teams to take advantage of the things they can control. Far too frequently the Jets failed to do that this season. Darnold missed three games. One of them was against Cleveland, a team that proved to be much weaker than many projected. The Jets weren’t competitive in that game. A few weeks later the Jets had a trip to Philadelphia off a bye. They knew there was a real chance Darnold would have to sit, but they reportedly gave their eventual starter Luke Falk minimal preparation even with the extra time to get ready for the game. There were ugly losses against bottom of the league competition Jacksonville, Miami, and Cincinnati even after Darnold returned. The season started with a blown 16 point lead against the Bills.
The injuries are a reason the Jets will be sitting at home this postseason. So are the other things I mentioned. They couldn’t control the injuries. They could control the other things.
Even the greatest coaches sometimes fail in the “things I can control” area. This is the aspect of failure on which they focus. They learn from their mistakes and get better.
You can always make excuses when your team fails. This is a pattern with Gase. Take what he said about last year’s Miami team.
“I mean there’s a reason why we started 3-0, because all of those guys were there,” Gase said on Monday. “Then when we started losing guys throughout the season, we’re trying to patchwork things. We had a little time there where we’re trying to get really used to the guys that are playing, so we were shuffling some lineups. That’s what happens. Then we kind of had some good games where guys were starting to gel a little bit. Then we have another wave where we’ve got to switch some things around.”
Fans are allowed to make excuses. Coaches need to focus on the things they can control.
Figure out how to relate to the players better
Nobody aside from the players and coaches knows the true state of the Jets locker room, but Gase came to this team with a poor reputation for connecting with his players. There were numerous media reports of issues in the Miami locker room during Gase’s tenure. Some of his former players have criticized him years after they left Miami.
While we don’t know the full extent of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, there has been a striking amount of public drama with this team in 2019. Two players have filed grievances against the team for its handling of injuries. Jamal Adams and Quincy Enunwa have publicly called the Jets out for the handling of certain situations.
Matt Miller from Bleacher Report dropped this nugget last week.
One player told me Adam Gase has lost the respect of the locker room with his “tough guy bulls--t attitude” and the team’s lack of a plan offensively. “Guys actually respect Gregg Williams,” the player said. “No one respects Gase.”
You could say, “I agree with the Jets. The way X player acted was ridiculous.” I’d agree in the case of Adams, but that’s kind of beside the point. At some point when there’s enough smoke, it stands to reason there is also fire. When issues that should remain private repeatedly are dragged into the public, there is likely a reason for that.
I don’t think Gase is universally hated in the Jets locker room. I don’t think he was hated by all of his Dolphins players either, but there clearly have been issues in both places.
The good news is coaches have overcome problems like these in the past.
I have recently done a lot of reading about Bill Belichick. Belichick is a very demanding coach, but he also earns the respect of his players. He treats everybody fairly, and he takes interest in his players’ lives off the field. He works to develop a bond with his players, something he didn’t do in his first NFL coaching stint with the Browns. I was a bit surprised to read about this, but I came across it in multiple places. It might help to explain why some of his proteges like Matt Patricia and Eric Mangini have failed. Being a taskmaster doesn’t work unless the players are willing to buy in.
Tom Coughlin was one of the most notorious disciplinarians in the NFL. He won his first Super Bowl with the Giants only after he famously realized he needed to adjust his approach to dealing with his players.
In the end, Coughlin made himself a two-time champ and likely Hall of Famer by realizing he couldn’t rule on fear and intimidation alone, that he needed to inspire with love, too.
This was not a pleasant season for the Jets. The team failed in many ways, and I think the head coach needs to own his share of the failure.
If this year can be a galvanizing force and motivates the coach to grow up over the offseason, perhaps the temporary pain of 2019 will be worth it in the long run.