To better understand the failure of Adam Gase, it’s instructive to look at a major shortcoming of the last coach who took the New York Jets to the playoffs.
After the Jets drafted Geno Smith with the first pick in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, they decided to have him compete with incumbent Mark Sanchez for the job of starting quarterback.
In the preseason opener at Detroit, then-head coach Rex Ryan watched in horror as Sanchez threw a pick-six to defensive lineman Ziggy Ansah on a screen pass. Well, actually he only watched the tail end of the play, because he had his back turned until he heard the roar of the Ford Field crowd.
That’s because the defensive-minded Ryan was working on his specialty at the time, and wasn’t paying attention to what was happening with the offense. Perhaps that was the reason why, when owner Woody Johnson hired Ryan’s successor, Todd Bowles in 2015, Johnson said Bowles had the ability to take a “30,000-foot look at offense, defense and special teams, all those areas, and how they interact.”
But that’s not quite what happened. Although Bowles didn’t call the defensive plays, he mainly focused his attention on that side of the ball, and let his offensive coordinators handle the other side of the line of scrimmage.
His successor, Adam Gase, has been even worse in that aspect of coaching, with his laminated play sheet often seeming to be affixed to his face during games. But that reign of error (terror for Jets’ fans) is expected to end in a few hours, win or lose, after the Jets’ game at New England today.
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But it is worth recalling both Ryan, and his Jets’ predecessor, Eric Mangini. It’s obvious that the Johnson brothers, Christopher and Woody, who own the Jets, didn’t follow very closely the career arc of those two men once they were dismissed from their Jets’ duties by Woody Johnson.
Each immediately was hired by another team—Buffalo in Ryan’s case, Cleveland in Mangini’s case. And each only lasted two seasons in the new gig before being fired. Ryan went 15-16 for the Bills before being canned with one game left in the 2016 campaign, and Mangini was 10-22 for the long-suffering Browns.
The problem for both was that they didn’t make any changes in their approaches. Ryan went along with his same defense-first approach on the sidelines, and his same bombastic approach in interviews and off the field, going so far as to buy a pickup truck and have it painted with the Bills’ logo and colors.
As for Mangini, he brought the same brand of Bill Belichick-inspired secrecy and paranoia to Cleveland that he had used with New York. Midway through his first season there, the Browns and his handpicked director of team operations, Erin O’Brien, quietly parted ways. When O’Brien was with the Jets, some players believed she was there to spy on them and report to Mangini, according to a source.
(As an aside, the odd thing about all of this is that Mangini since has proven to be not only an insightful, but often engaging and witty television commentator. Why he chose to hide that facet of his personality and instead be a Belichick clone during his head-coaching career remains a mystery.)
Not to play amateur psychologist, but the reasons for such behavior in the next job are obvious. In any career path, getting hired immediately after being hired can be considered as validation that it wasn’t your fault, but the fault of the people that fired you. And much like Ryan and Mangini, Adam Gase never changed his ways.
He continues to run the same offense that worked for the immobile Peyton Manning in 3013-14, but isn’t a good fit for the more mobile Sam Darnold, nor is a good fit against NFL defenses that have seen that offense before. He also continues to focus only on one side of the ball, while completely outsourcing the defense, just as he did when he coached Miami from 2016-18. But he won’t be doing that much longer.
The Jets cannot make this mistake in the next hire. The new head coach must be cognizant of every phase of the operation. It will be up to general manager Joe Douglas, if he is empowered by acting owner Christopher Johnson, to make sure they find a coach who isn’t buried in his play sheets on Sundays.
On that August night in 2013, Rex Ryan wasn’t looking. But the Jets’ hierarchy must have a clear vision for once.