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The Penalty Factory

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Adam Gase has struggled as a head coach in various ways, some of which are obvious and have gotten a lot of attention. In four and a half years as a head coach he has never had a team that outscored its opponents. He has had one winning team in his head coaching career. His career winning percentage is .417. His winning percentage with the Jets is .292. He has more losses by double digits in his career (32) than he has total wins (30). He has presided over offenses ranked, chronologically, 24th, 25th, 31st, 32nd and 32nd in the NFL. The list goes on, but you get the idea. He has been a terrible head coach, and many of the underlying facts are well known.

Then there are the penalties. Oh, the penalties. This has not been an aspect of Gase’s career that has gotten a lot of attention, but perhaps it should.

Adams Gase’s Jets currently have 1.06 penalty yards per offensive play run (we’ll abbreviate this by “PYP”). That fact in itself, without context, probably doesn’t mean a lot to you. It’s not a statistic one usually sees bandied about. Perhaps it would mean more if I told you that ranks as the second worst mark in the NFL , behind only the New Orleans Saints at 1.19. That doesn’t sound so good. But heck, it’s just half a season. He probably did better in prior years, right? Uhhh ... nope.

The teams for which Adam Gase has been a head coach in the NFL are the 2016 - 2018 Miami Dolphins and the 2019 - 2020 New York Jets. Here are those teams PYP and rank in the NFL (a lower number is better here, so ranking 1st (most) is the worst in the NFL):

2016: 1.25, 1st

2017: 1.16, 2nd

2018: 1.11, 2nd

2019: 1.16, 1st

2020: 1.06, 2nd

That doesn’t look so good. It’s worse than you might think. Five seasons (one only half finished), five times among the worst two teams in the NFL. The really weird thing about this is, penalties are pretty variable year to year. Teams with the same coaches sometimes go from near the top of the league to near the bottom, and back again. Then there’s Adam Gase. He is ranked among the two worst team five years straight. No other NFL head coach during that time ranked among the worst two teams more than once. In fact, only one other head coach, Pete Carroll, has ranked among the worst two more than once in the last ten years. Carroll achieved that dubious distinction in 2013 and 2017, but he has otherwise never ranked among the worst five, and only one other time has he ranked among the worst eight.

Among the worst dozen PYP registered over the last 20 years in the NFL, Adam Gase has three of them. The only other coach who has more than one is Pete Carroll. Here are those marks of distinction, ranked in descending order. Adam Gase’s teams are marked in bold italics.

  1. 2011 Raiders 1.34
  2. 2017 Seahawks 1.33
  3. 2016 Dolphins 1.25
  4. 2010 Raiders 1.23
  5. 2015 Bills 1.23
  6. 2013 Seahawks 1.22
  7. 2016 Raiders 1.19
  8. 2014 Rams 1.19
  9. 2015 Buccaneers 1.18
  10. 2017 Dolphins 1.16
  11. 2019 Jets 1.16
  12. 2018 Chiefs 1.16

This is a really extraordinary track record for Gase that shows no signs of abating. We shouldn’t perhaps read too much into this. Highly penalized teams sometimes have great success, and teams with fewer penalties sometimes are terrible. Among those teams on the dirty dozen list above, the 2016 Raiders went 12-4, as did the 2018 Chiefs, so being highly penalized does not preclude success. Gase, however, has such an extraordinary run here that it makes you wonder what it says about his ability to run a disciplined team in this league. Having a highly penalized team once or twice may just be a statistical anomaly. Doing it five straight seasons is likely no anomaly.

We often talk about highly penalized players as “penalty machines.” Given Gase’s track record as a head coach, we would not be remiss in characterizing him as a penalty factory. And that factory’s production far outstrips any other in the last 20 years.