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Thoughts on the CEO Coach

New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

There were a number of notable aspects of the press conference Jets CEO Christopher Johnson held last week, but one statement he made about the qualities the team wants in a head coach really stood out to me.

This is a large contrast with two years ago when the Jets made it clear they favored a head coach with an offensive background.

I thought that approach was a mistake. In fact let me show you what I wrote when Johnson indicated his preference for an offensive coach.

I hope the Jets keep an open mind. Having a defensive or special teams background does not necessarily preclude a coach from having a good plan for developing a quarterback.

And for every Sean McVay who succeeds as the hot young offensive mind it seems like there are multiple coaches like Hue Jackson and Adam Gase.

At the time I mentioned Gase because he was one of the first bad head coaches with an offensive background who popped into my mind. He wasn’t even considered a candidate for the job at the time. There was no way of knowing how prophetic those words would turn out to be.

Ultimately I believe the Jets fell into the trap of believing only a head coach with an offensive background could properly develop a quarterback. It was clear through the interview process when almost all of the candidates had an offensive background.

While it was an easy narrative to buy into, the facts didn’t back it up. Numerous franchise quarterbacks in today’s NFL developed under head coaches with a defensive background. They include Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, and Tom Brady.

After Gase was hired it wasn’t uncommon to hear that he was the first Jets head coach with an offensive background since Rich Kotite. Amazingly it was used to praise the hire as if the Jets had entered the modern NFL by hiring a head coach with an offensive background.

Of course, when you are the first anything since Rich Kotite, that anything probably isn’t relevant to being a successful head coach.

It isn’t uncommon to just think of your head coach as a glorified coordinator. If the Jets could find a head coach to run the offense and pair him with a defensive coordinator like Gregg Williams, the entire team would be set. That was the theory at least. In practice it didn’t work very well.

Of course a head coach is likely to have more expertise on one side of the ball than the other. He might even take an active role in coaching that side of the ball. If you have the knowledge of Bill Belichick, why wouldn’t you take an active role in running the defense. The Chiefs certainly wouldn’t be better with Andy Reid taking a back seat in the offense.

But being a head coach is so much more than simply focusing on your side of the ball. It’s difficult to articulate why this is so until it impacts the team.

The Jets got one concrete example in Week 14 this season when Williams sent an all out blitz in a Hail Mary situation. The Raiders scored a touchdown as the Jets hung a rookie cornerback out to dry in one on one coverage.

Gase clearly put the blame on Williams and fired him the next day. Williams deserved his share of the blame, but what was happening with the guy who was supposed to be in charge of the team?

This is the kind of thing that happens when your head coach only concerns himself with one side of the team. There is no supervision to correct problems on the other side.

For a contrast, one might look to the AFC Championship Game played two years ago between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Entering the game, Bill Belichick realized his team didn’t have the firepower to go up and down the field with the high powered Chiefs for 60 minutes. So for the first half of the game, New England didn’t try to make big plays. Their offense revolved around ball control. Their objective was to keep Kansas City’s offense on the sidelines by putting together long drives. They eventually held the ball for over 21 minutes and ran 42 plays in the first half.

The Chiefs couldn’t score if they couldn’t get the ball. By limiting the opportunities, New England kept the game close and gave themselves a chance to win, which they eventually did in overtime. Kansas City eventually found an offensive rhythm, registering 24 points in the fourth quarter. If that pace had been sustained over the course of a full game, the Chiefs would have won in a rout. New England’s early keep away gameplan worked.

A coach who only was focused on the offense never would have developed a plan like that. Such a coach would have tried to figure out how to make as many big plays and score as many points as possible. That plan would have lost the game, however. The Patriots didn’t have the talent to run with the Chiefs for 60 minutes. Only a coach who focused on all aspects of the team would have realized that the only way to win the game was to limit his own offense. Long drives were the only way to keep the ball away from Patrick Mahomes and company.

These are the things a head coach needs to think about.

Does this mean the Jets must focus only on coaches who have experience working with both sides of the ball? Should they eliminate coordinators from their list of candidates? Of course not.

A candidate might be an offensive coordinator. The question isn’t whether he has experience working with defenses. It’s whether he understands and embraces the difference between being a coordinator working with only the offense and being a head coach where he has responsibility for everything.

Surely an offensive coach has gone up against great defenses and appreciates the challenges they present to an offense and the value they provide to a team. He should have an idea of which defensive coaches, philosophies, and concepts are most difficult to face and have a plan to bring those to the team he runs.

I don’t know whether the Jets will succeed or fail in their latest coaching hire, but at least this time they seem to appreciate the need to look for somebody to run their team, not a glorified coordinator.