On the day the Jets introduced Adam Gase as their next head coach, their chief executive, Christopher Johnson, heralded an organizational shift. After hiring defensive-minded coaches for more than two decades, it was time for the Jets, Johnson said, to align with league trends.
“To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky,” Johnson said of Gase, “he’s coaching where football is going.”
That assessment was hardly prescient. Gase’s failure to oversee a capable offense resulted in one of the worst seasons in franchise history and precipitated his dismissal Sunday, hours after a Week 17 loss to the Patriots dropped the Jets’ record to 2-14 and less than two years after Johnson appointed him in January 2019 to replace Todd Bowles.
Instead of revitalizing the Jets and developing quarterback Sam Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft, into a star, Gase departs as yet another caretaker of the team’s postseason drought, the longest in the league, 10 seasons and counting.
“While my sincere intentions are to have stability in our organization — especially in our leadership positions — it is clear the best decision for the Jets is to move in a different direction,” Johnson said in a statement. “We knew there was a lot of work that needed to be done when Adam joined us in 2019. Our strong finish last year was encouraging, but unfortunately, we did not sustain that positive momentum or see the progress we all expected this season.”
As the Jets lost their first 13 games, careening toward winless infamy until they upset the Rams in Week 15 and outlasted Cleveland in Week 16, their struggles recalled another woeful era: their clumsiness under Rich Kotite — before Gase, the last offense-oriented coach the Jets had hired — who coached the team to its 1-15 nadir in 1996. In two seasons under Gase’s stewardship, the Jets went 9-23, Darnold regressed and the team’s offense ranked either last or next-to-last in points and total yardage each year. They finished last in both categories this season.
“If there’s one side of the ball that I want to make sure is right — that one — it has not happened and that’s on me,” Gase said last week.
Gase, 42, was a successful coordinator with Denver and Chicago, calling offensive plays for Peyton Manning in his record-setting season with the Broncos in 2013. Manning emphatically endorsed Gase to Johnson during the search process. Much as the Jets were motivated to acquire Tim Tebow in 2012 because he had led a late comeback to defeat them, team executives were also intrigued by Gase, in part, because he won five of six games against the Jets in his three seasons coaching the Dolphins, who fired him the day after the 2018 season ended. Gase went 23-25 with Miami.
The Jets’ job opened at the same time, an inflection point across the N.F.L. landscape: Quarterbacks threw the most touchdown passes, and teams combined to score the most touchdowns, in a single season to that point.
The aerial revolution prompted teams with vacancies to identify head coaches who could revamp desultory offenses and, though in 2018 the Jets actually scored more points and gained more yards than Miami did under Gase that season, the Jets believed he was the right person to mold Darnold at quarterback, the position that has vexed them like no other.
What followed instead were spells of ineptitude and irreconcilable rifts. Four months after Gase was hired, the Jets fired their general manager, Mike Maccagnan, despite letting him run the two most critical parts of the 2019 off-season: the draft and free agency. Gase later dismissed the perception that he had won a power struggle between the two men.
Then, after reportedly opposing the Jets’ decision to sign running back Le’Veon Bell in March 2019, Gase angered him by not deploying him to what Bell perceived was the best of his capabilities. The team wound up releasing Bell in October 2020. In that, Bell became the latest player alienated by this edition of Jets leadership, fronted by Gase and the new general manager Joe Douglas. Bell joined the star safety Jamal Adams, who was dealt to Seattle in July, and Quincy Enunwa and Kelechi Osemele, who had been upset with the way the team handled their injuries.
The Jets, after closing the 2019 season by winning six of their final eight games, offered a smidgen of hope for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010 under Rex Ryan.
It was a mirage. They were non-competitive in most games, and though teams generally aspire to peak in late December, the Jets’ late-season victories might have done more harm than good. To Gase’s credit and perhaps to the detriment of the franchise, his players did not quit on him. His coaching legacy will be rallying his players enough to win twice in the last three weeks, victories that cost the Jets the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 draft because they no longer had the league’s worst record. Instead, they will choose second, behind Jacksonville.
Almost certainly the Jets would have used that top pick to take Trevor Lawrence, the consensus top quarterback prospect, should he elect to skip his senior season at Clemson. Now, just three years after drafting Darnold out of Southern California, the Jets must decide whether to continue building around him; pursue a veteran stopgap in free agency or via trade; or draft a successor, perhaps Justin Fields of Ohio State or Zach Wilson of Brigham Young.
Gase, like Ryan and Bowles before him, focused on his specialty, giving the deposed coordinator Gregg Williams — fired after his disastrous call in Week 12 led to the Raiders’ scoring the winning touchdown with five seconds left — autonomy over the defense, and the entire operation suffered: The Jets allowed 457 points, the most in franchise history.
While teams around the league this season scored points and touchdowns at an unprecedented rate, surpassing the standard set in 2018, the Jets most definitely did not. They entered Week 17 last in most offensive categories, including yards, passing yards, points and first downs per game; yards and points per drive; and red-zone efficiency.
That impotence doesn’t seem to track with something else Johnson said back in mid-September.
Gase, Johnson said, had a “brilliant offensive mind.” With the Jets no closer to a playoff berth, no closer to where football is going, now it is time for Gase to use that mind somewhere else.