FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The New York Jets did their homework. Before embarking on their head-coaching search, they studied the history of second-chance coaches. It made sense, considering two candidates — Adam Gase and Mike McCarthy — had just been fired from their first jobs.
This is what they discovered: Eight coaches have won a Super Bowl in their second job after failing to win a championship in their first gig, a list that includes a New York coaching icon (Tom Coughlin) and a football savant who almost became the head coach of the Jets (Bill Belichick).
The Jets are betting Gase will be closer to Belichick and Coughlin than Eric Mangini, who flopped in his second job after getting bounced by the Jets with a 23-25 record — identical to Gase’s mark in Miami.
“If you go back to the history of successful NFL head coaches, there are a lot of guys the first time through that may not have had a lot of success and they learn from it, and they actually get better the second time around,” Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan said. “I will say this: It’s a hard time to learn on the fly. Just like being an NFL GM.”
Gase, in his introductory news conference on Monday at the team’s facility, actually demonstrated some Belichickian traits — not the good ones, though. The new leader of the Jets appeared nervous and spoke in a monotone voice, failing to capitalize on his first chance to win over a skeptical fan base. By the time he was finished, his big, wandering eyes had inspired memes on social media.
It certainly wasn’t Rex Ryan in 2009, predicting a celebratory trip to the White House.
Yeah, Gase didn’t hit it out of the park, but so what? No one will remember Jan. 14, 2019, if he leads the Jets to the playoffs for the first time in nine years. This is a franchise that gets sidetracked by trying too hard to “win” the news conference or the offseason. Sure, it results in a lot of positive media coverage in the moment, but it usually fades when the games start. This time, they won’t have to worry about that, as the New York tabloids are sure to have a field day with Gase.
After his news conference, in an interview with ESPN New York radio, Gase claimed he had no idea what a meme is. (Kind of reminiscent of Belichick saying he doesn’t have a “SnapFace” account, a line he breaks out from time to time.) But like I said, none of this will matter if Gase can coach football. After listening to CEO Christopher Johnson and Maccagnan, it became clear they hired Gase in large part because of his background with quarterbacks.
They want Gase to turn Sam Darnold into a star. Likewise, Gase said he was attracted to the Jets because of Darnold. For a change, the Jets have a quarterback worth nurturing, and they followed the league-wide trend by hiring a quarterback whisperer — or so they believe.
Still, there are questions, none of which were adequately answered at the news conference.
• Why is Gase considered a quarterback developer when he never actually, you know, developed a quarterback? He did solid work with Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill (when he wasn’t injured), but they already were well into their careers by the time Gase came along. Gase himself admitted Darnold will be his first ground-floor project. Johnson, explaining why he picked Gase over McCarthy, said it’s because Gase “has gotten the best out of quarterbacks in different stages of their careers.” True, but McCarthy reached the NFC Championship Game with an aging Brett Favre and won a Super Bowl with a young Aaron Rodgers.
• Will Gase become a one-player coach? OK, that might be a loaded question, but it sure sounded as if his primary focus will be Darnold. Gase said he might not hire a quarterbacks coach, suggesting he’d like to be as hands-on as possible. He also said he wants to hire a strong defensive coordinator to balance his focus on offense. This touches a nerve for Jets’ fans, who went through two coaching regimes (Ryan and Todd Bowles) that were all about one side of the ball — defense. Fair or not, it created a split-squad perception.
“I probably need to spend my time with the quarterback,” Gase said. “That’s why, whoever we bring in here on defense has to do a great job of making sure he’s really the head coach of the defense.”
In Miami, Gase reportedly irked some players because he was too focused on quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He can’t afford a repeat of that. Yes, his job is to coach up Darnold, but not at the expense of leading the entire team.
• Will Gase be content without personnel power? Will he be compatible with Maccagnan? In Miami, Gase had control over the 53-man roster. Not here. That authority belongs to Maccagnan. Gase insisted he’s fine with the setup, and that he never broached the personnel-power issue in talks with the Jets. He said this will allow him to do his job (sorry, that’s another Belichick-ism), meaning he can just worry about coaching.
This all sounds peachy now, but the outcome will depend on whether he and Maccagnan share the same vision and can co-exist. Until the head-coaching interview, Maccagnan never had met Gase. There’s no common background. It’s similar to the Maccagnan-Todd Bowles partnership, which produced a 24-40 record. Maccagnan said he and Gase are spending a lot of time together, getting to know each other. It’s like speed dating, except they’re already married.
Johnson is convinced Gase will be better the second time around. He wouldn’t issue a playoff mandate, but he acknowledged his expectations are very high.
“I’m pretty sure he’s going to be a great hire,” Johnson said.
Judge the man on his record, not his news conferences.