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Adam Gase’s Jets Tenure Was Always Destined for Failure

New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

Back in the summer of 2006 I went to a theater to see the movie Click. The movie revolves around a father and husband named Michael Newman who was portrayed by Adam Sandler. When shopping at a local Bed, Bath, and Beyond for a new remote control, Michael receives a free remote from a mysterious character named Morty who was portrayed by Christopher Walken. Michael eventually comes to realizes the remote control could be used in his day to day life. He could fast forward through the unpleasant parts. Unfortunately due to the configuration of the technology, he fast forwards through parts of his life he didn’t want to miss. The story eventually has a happy ending.

I couldn’t tell you why I actually spent money to see that movie. You certainly shouldn’t feel bad for me that I did. I mean read that plot summary. Going in I had to have known there was no chance it was going to be good. What was I thinking going to that ridiculous movie?

The day the Jets hired Adam Gase two years ago I thought about Click. I remember wishing I had that remote so I could just fast forward past the Gase Era. I knew exactly what would happen.

We were always going to reach this day. Some of the details were sketchy. Maybe it would take two years. Maybe it would take three. Maybe Gase could luck his way into one winning season. Maybe he wouldn’t. But there was no way he was the right coach to turn the Jets into a consistent winner. This day was inevitable.

Some head coaches succeed on their second chance after failing on their first try. These coaches improve because they are self-reflective on their own failures and change for the better. Gase lacked these traits. If you listened to him, it didn’t even sound like he thought he failed with the Miami Dolphins.

A few months after he was hired, the Jets started a new general manager search. (More on that later in the article.) Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer asked him a good question seeking an example of an ideal head coach-general manager relationship.

And interestingly enough, when I asked him if there was a partnership he’d seen over his 20 years of coaching that would be a model for what he wants in New York, that’s exactly where he went.

You’d think Gase would look to the great organizations in the NFL. Maybe he would even go back in history and reference one of the league’s most enduring dynasties.

Nope.

“I know what it looks like, because the last three years, I had it,” he said. “Me and [Dolphins GM Chris Grier], we had a great relationship. What everybody says that was, and what it was, nobody knows. … He was a great communicator. He does a great job of managing his department, did an unbelievable job personally, for me at the time, over the last three years, of sending me in the direction of guys to evaluate, whether it be in free agency or in the college draft.

Gase told Breer that he wanted to build with the Jets exactly what he built with Miami. The 2016-2018 Dolphins were his model for success.

It was a truly mind-boggling statement. As Gase said that, the Dolphins were tearing down the roster that partnership produced because they correctly realized it provided no viable path to winning.

That’s the thing about Adam Gase. He knows exactly what he wants to do. There just isn’t a very good reason for him to do it.

Gase famously worked with Peyton Manning in his first NFL offensive coordinator job.

Manning was known for favoring a very basic offensive framework. He didn’t want a ton of bells and whistles. The complex motions and multiple formations that go with today’s cutting edge schemes weren’t a part of teams quarterbacked by Peyton Manning. He had a handful of plays he wanted to run out of the same handful of formations.

That made perfect sense for Peyton Manning. If you are running a bunch of different formations, the defense will naturally look different from play to play. They might not have changed their call at all, however. The different look will just be a response to the change in the offensive formation or personnel grouping.

If you run the same formation over and over, any new look for the defense would have to be because the call has changed. When Peyton Manning is under center, he’s going to figure out exactly what that change is and exactly how to exploit it. And when you have mastered a handful of plays with the precision Peyton had, there is no need need for a voluminous playbook.

A system like that works for Peyton Manning. You might be tempted to give Gase credit for working within Peyton’s comfort zone, but you should resist that temptation. By the point in his career where he started working with Gase, Peyton knew exactly what he wanted out of an offense. Gase didn’t have the stature to change anything an immortal quarterback wanted.

Clearly the two developed a good personal relationship. It’s possible Gase was a good sounding board and came up with a few ideas here and there. Still, the framework that maximized Peyton Manning’s effectiveness was in place long before he met Adam Gase.

That framework isn’t ideal for every quarterback. There’s only one Peyton Manning.

Young quarterbacks need much more help. They need concepts that simplify the game and put stress on the defense. When you ask an inexperienced quarterback to run an offense the way Peyton Manning runs an offense, you are asking for trouble.

That’s the thing about Adam Gase. He knows exactly what he wants to do. There just isn’t a very good reason for him to do it.

I recently came across some notes I took when Gase was hired. These were bullet points that outlined some of my major concerns about him based on what I had seen and what I had heard from people I trust.

This is what I had.

  • Plays favorites. Has shown a tendency to allocate playing time based on personal relationships over talent.
  • Doesn’t adapt his system to the talent he has.
  • Poor situational playcaller. Doesn’t adjust in games to what the defense is doing.
  • Alienated talented big name players and eventually drove them out of town.

Those were the issues I saw from his tenure in Miami. You probably would have thought I was talking about his run with the Jets if you read those bullet points without the disclaimer. The issues with this guy were well-known at the time he was hired. Expecting anything else just wasn’t living in reality.

So how did the Jets end up in this situation?

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

We need to go back to the coaching search of 2019. If you want a tutorial in how not to conduct a coaching search, you could study the Jets. The team made every imaginable mistake.

It began with the retention of Mike Maccagnan. Maccagnan had shown no ability to do any part of his job competently. He was not widely respected in league circles, and the condition of being attached to Maccagnan undoubtedly made the job less attractive to coaching candidates.

Maccagnan also took a hands on role in further torpedoing the job’s attractiveness by reportedly adding the condition that any head coach would need to hire Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator. This was a ridiculous condition that would immediately undermine any hire and ensured there would be no cohesive vision for building the team. We know for a fact at least one candidate rejected the possibility of joining the team over this condition.

Beyond Maccagnan, the Jets further reduced their odds of success by getting tunnel vision. Their stated focus was on finding a head coach who could get the best out of Sam Darnold. That was a reasonable goal, but the way they went about it left much to be desired.

The team got itself into the mindset that only a head coach with an offensive background was capable of developing Darnold. This ignored basic facts. There are plenty of top quarterbacks who developed under coaches who didn’t come from the offensive side of the ball. These include Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, and yes, Tom Brady.

The best coach for a young quarterback is somebody capable of building a stable franchise around him. Somehow the Jets got the mindset that a young quarterback could only develop if he had a glorified offensive coordinator as his head coach.

To be fair, the Jets were not the only team to fall victim to this line of flawed thinking. After Sean McVay’s early success with the Los Angeles Rams, many teams saw hiring an offensive mind as the only path to success. Hire a defensive coach, and maybe you can get the next McVay as your coordinator. But that McVay will eventually leave your franchise because he will get a head coaching job. Better to hire that next McVay as your head coach.

It doesn’t take much effort to figure out how flawed this perspective is. I have no idea why the Jets wanted Adam Gase so badly. He would have been a bad hire as offensive coordinator. Still he would have done less damage in that role.

The Gase as offensive coordinator argument was made in 2018. The response was, “Yeah, but then a year from now we’ll lose Gase because some other team will hire him as head coach.” I’m not making this up. That’s actually what people said. Surely you can see now why this theory produces such poor results.

Beyond that, it ignores everything we know about quarterback play. You would be hard-pressed to find a great quarterback who never changed play callers or systems once in his career. If a coordinator change is enough to destroy your career, are you really a franchise quarterback?

I focus on process with the same intensity I focus on results in the NFL. People sometimes ask me why. The saga that led to Gase’s hiring explains why. With a process this bad, hiring a coach like Gase becomes inevitable.

The bad general manager and ridiculous conditions scare off any candidate who has options. The focus on hiring somebody with an offensive background further limits the pool. How do you not end up with a below average glorified offensive coordinator? Somebody like Gase takes the job because he wants to be an NFL head coach, and these are the only conditions under which he could get hired. A search that began focused on developing a young quarterback ended with the hiring of a coach who had no track record successfully developing young quarterbacks.

The most optimistic views on the Gase hire stated that his failures in Miami were due to his personnel control. That wouldn’t be an issue with the Jets since Maccagnan ran personnel. This never made a lot of sense. Maccagnan was a failed personnel executive in every sense. The Jets weren’t in good shape with him. It all became moot.

Within five months of his hiring, Gase staged a coup resulting in Maccagnan’s firing and wrested complete control of the organization. In the weeks leading up to Maccagnan’s firing reports had surfaced about the two having a poor working relationship.

Given the circumstances surrounding the firing of Maccagnan, Gase was kind of fortunate. Maccagnan was a legitimately terrible general manager who deserved to be fired.

Still I found something unsettling about the fact somebody with a track record as poor as Gase’s was allowed to take total control of the organization so quickly.

Maccagnan may have been terrible at his job, but it didn’t seem like that was the reason Gase turned on him. Gase just didn’t get his way on everything. That was the problem. He didn’t get the blocking tight end he wanted. The signing of Le’Veon Bell happened over his objections.

It was a control thing. Maccagnan’s poor record was incidental. It isn’t like Gase had a better idea how to build a winning team. His stated model for success was his failed stint with the Dolphins. While he didn’t get everything he wanted in the 2019 offseason, but he was reportedly a driving force behind some of the worst decisions the Jets made such as signing CJ Mosley. In the two years that followed, ineffective player after ineffective player was brought in because of Gase’s recommendation. He essentially admitted this change was made because Maccagnan was standing in the way of recreating the 2016-2018 Dolphins. The man had learned nothing.

It could have just as easily been a good general manager who was driven out of the organization. If you don’t agree with that, I don’t think you have followed Gase and the Johnson brothers closely enough. Even though the right move was made, it was by pure coincidence. The principle was troubling. And it was all predictable.

That’s the thing about Adam Gase. He knows exactly what he wants to do. There just isn’t a very good reason for him to do it...even when he’s technically right.

Still there is a sentiment within the fanbase that Gase deserves gratitude for getting Maccagnan fired. I think any such feelings would be vastly overstated. Maccagnan was eventually going to be fired. Perhaps Gase sped things up a bit, but it wasn’t quickly enough to have a material impact. The damage was done. The 2019 and 2020 seasons were already lost because of Maccagnan’s poor personnel decisions and his role in the hiring of Gase.

And his role in the hiring of the coach is no small thing. Even in a world where he is the hero who drove Maccagnan out, was it really worth it if the price you have to pay is having Gase as the head coach? Doesn’t that defeat the entire purpose? It’s trading one problem for another.

There is one possible silver lining to the Gase Era. After the general manager change, Gase likely did have something to do with the hiring of Joe Douglas, a universally respected executive. If Douglas builds the Jets into a winner, perhaps some good may come out of this dismal two years stretch. At least Adam Gase will have contributed something to the team.

It would nice for this dismal two years stretch to have at least one silver lining. Maybe for once Adam Gase knew what he wanted to do and actually had a good reason for it. He should hope so. History won’t remember anything else about his Jets tenure fondly.