As first impressions go, Adam Gase didn’t exactly knock it out of the park during his introductory news conference on Monday.
There were no pronouncements about the Jets winning a championship for the first time in more than half a century. No quotes that inspired passion the way Tom Coughlin did during his first news conference with the Giants in 2004. Even Herm Edwards spread his inimitable enthusiasm when he got the Jets’ job in 2001, talking about “doing the corners” the way his military father demanded of Edwards when he grew up in California.
Gase was mostly dull, and nervousness manifested by his wandering eyes created an internet sensation that hardly inspired confidence about what lies ahead.
Guess what: None of it matters.
Even if Gase produced an oratory that made you want to suit up right then and there, it has nothing to do with the body of work he’s about to produce with a team so badly in need of direction after three straight losing seasons. Rex Ryan once shook the cobwebs off the Eric Mangini somnambulism by proclaiming that the Jets would be visiting the president (it was Barack Obama at the time), and he electrified the franchise. He came as close as the AFC Championship Game his first two years, but did not make the playoffs again.
No, it’s not what a coach says or does in making an opening statement. It’s what he does on Sunday afternoons in the fall. And if Gase can breathe new life into the franchise and get the most out of promising young quarterback Sam Darnold, then anything that happened during the news conference and all the poking fun at his eye movements will be a footnote to his career in New York.
Gase didn’t win his opening news conference, but he’ll win the hearts and minds of Jets fans if this team finally can break a string of futility that has haunted the franchise for so much of the last 50 years. And if he fails, it will have nothing to do with his inability to connect with a rousing introduction.
This is all about what’s in Gase’s mind and has nothing to do with show. If he can successfully translate his ideas to Darnold, who is a willing pupil and seems enthused with the concepts Gase is about to impart to him, then that will be the ultimate barometer of the coach’s tenure.
“There’s a lot of excitement around our locker room and around this organization right now,” Darnold told Newsday’s Al Iannazzone this week. “I think it’s going to be a really exciting year. Hopefully, there’s going to be a ton of wins coming our way.”
If the wins do come, it will be because Gase is able to carry out his vision with a quarterback who is skilled enough to make it work. Gase got off to a terrific start with the Dolphins in 2016, going 10-6 and making the playoffs thanks to a credible performance from the previously underachieving quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
He couldn’t overcome injuries to Tannehill the following two years – Jay Cutler came out of the Fox announcing booth to quarterback the team in 2017 and Tannehill was again injured this past season. But Darnold has far more talent than Tannehill, and there is every reason to believe Gase can win with a quarterback who showed so much promise as his rookie season progressed.
There are still offensive deficiencies that Gase will have to overcome; the Jets need more depth at running back and on the offensive line and can use a true No. 1 receiver. General manager Mike Maccagnan needs a strong offseason to address those shortcomings, but as long as you have the quarterback, you have a chance.
Gase’s hiring of Gregg Williams as his defensive coordinator is a strong move, one that will infuse plenty of energy into a unit that needs to play with more passion. Williams turned the Browns into a strong defense, and while he may not have the same level of talent with the Jets, his high-energy, attacking style will go a long way toward addressing another weakness.
Williams desperately needs pass rushers to make his system work, and Maccagnan is again on the spot for finding players, either in the draft or free agency, to fit what Williams likes to do.
“There’s a lot of excitement around our locker room and around this organization right now,” Darnold said. “I think it’s going to be a really exciting year. Hopefully, there’s going to be a ton of wins coming our way.”
Jets fans may not have felt excited by Gase on Monday, but it’s far more important that Darnold feels that way. And the former USC star, who may finally give the Jets a true answer at quarterback for the next decade or more, truly believes in who’s running the team.
It’s all that matters.