EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Jets coach Adam Gase put himself on the coaching map during his time with the Denver Broncos. He went from anonymous assistant to Peyton Manning’s right-hand man, a relationship that added gravitas to his résumé. By the time he left the Broncos in 2015, Gase had an AFC Championship ring and three kids, all of whom were born in Denver.
“Any time you can be at a place six years in this profession,” he recalled this week, “that’s a great experience.”
In his current gig, Gase is fighting to reach two.
After three straight blowout losses, Gase could be coaching for his job Thursday (8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network) against the team that launched his career. Broncos coach Vic Fangio also is 0-3 and has the same two-year record as Gase (7-12), but there’s no question which coach’s job security is more tenuous.
The speculation surrounding Gase is intense, with media reports fueling the conjecture Gase will be fired if the Jets lose Thursday. Reports also stated Jets CEO Christopher Johnson already has reached out to a prominent coaching agent to gather intel on potential replacements for 2021. Team officials laughed that off, claiming it’s not true and telling people within the organization not to believe it.
Gase, who faced similar scrutiny during his final season with the Miami Dolphins in 2018, was upbeat this week as he prepared for his moment on the prime-time stage. If he’s concerned about getting fired, he didn’t show it. He’s a man at peace.
“I can’t focus on that. It’s wasted energy,” Gase said. “It’s not going to help me at all. All I can do is make sure I get our guys into the right headspace to go out there and play well. … If I waste my energy on anything else, it’s counterproductive to what we’re doing.”
If it were up to the fan base, which never embraced Gase, he would have been gone a year ago. Currently, the situation is this:
Could the Jets really fire Gase if he loses this game?
While folks at One Jets Drive are selling the idea of patience, that Gase and general manager Joe Douglas need time to clean up the mess from the previous regime, the reality is this is a really bad football team that continues to get embarrassed. So, no, a coaching change cannot be ruled out with a loss, especially with a mini-bye of extra days before their Week 5 game against Arizona.
The Jets’ point differential is minus-57, easily the worst in the league and reminiscent of the 1996 Jets, who finished 1-15 — the darkest season in franchise history. The Jets are the only team that hasn’t held a lead. An opposing scout who has studied them said they’re “going through the motions.” One former Jets player told ESPN, “That team is down mentally, like four flat tires.”
Even though Vegas is practically calling the game a pick’em, the Jets have no excuse to lose on their home field. The Broncos, beset with more injuries than the Jets, are rolling out third-stringer Brett Rypien as their starting quarterback. The nephew of former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Mark Rypien has attempted nine NFL passes. If he has the Jets crying “Uncle,” it could be curtains for Gase.
Know this: Johnson isn’t keen on the idea of firing Gase; he has a lot invested in Gase because it was his hire. Older brother Woody Johnson, the owner, left him the keys to the car when he went overseas in 2017 to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, and the last thing Christopher wants to do is wrap the car around a telephone pole.
Two weeks ago, Johnson offered a strident defense of Gase, calling him a “brilliant offensive mind.” Sacking the guy three losses later would be a stunning 180, even by Jets’ standards. This would be one of the quickest hooks in recent NFL history, only four games longer than Steve Wilks’ one season (2018) with the Arizona Cardinals and Freddie Kitchens’ one season (2019) with the Cleveland Browns.
At the same time, Johnson indicated his evaluation of Gase would be based on progress. A second straight 0-4 start would hardly be the definition of progress. Sometimes the boss has to say, “Enough is enough.”
The Johnson family, which has owned the team since 2000, never has fired a coach in-season. Christopher made the unorthodox decision to fire Douglas’ predecessor, Mike Maccagnan, after the 2019 NFL draft, so we know he’s capable of making the tough call at a weird time. He was late on that decision, he later admitted, which could be preying on his mind as he mulls Gase’s fate.
One factor in Gase’s favor is, because of the coronavirus pandemic, there are no fans at home games. Nothing speaks louder to ownership than a half-empty stadium with booing customers. On Thursday night, there will be no “Gase Must Go!” chants at MetLife Stadium.
For his part, Gase seemed unusually upbeat this week. The word from people close to him is that he would be surprised if a pink slip comes during the season. It’s a different story after the season, especially if Woody Johnson returns from his diplomatic post.
Is there a case for riding it out with Gase?
There are three factors working in Gase’s favor: Last season’s turnaround. Reinforcements. Quarterback Sam Darnold.
Let’s start with last season. After a 1-7 start, which had people screaming for a change, Gase kept the locker room together and managed to finish 7-9 — an accomplishment that carried weight with Johnson and Douglas. They have seen Gase pull the team out of the darkness, and perhaps they believe he could do it again.
A handful of key injured players should be ready for Week 5, namely running back Le’Veon Bell, wide receiver Breshad Perriman and rookie receiver Denzel Mims, who has barely practiced because of two pulled hamstrings.
Behind the scenes, Gase is touting Mims as some sort of mini-savior — a stretch, considering the former Baylor standout hasn’t played a football game since the Sugar Bowl. Bell and Perriman aren’t difference-makers but can be useful if deployed correctly. The prospect of a healthy offense provides a glimmer of hope, although let’s be brutally honest: The group was together in Week 1, save for Mims, and the product was terrible.
Ultimately, Christopher Johnson will weigh the Darnold factor as much as any: What’s best for the Jets’ young quarterback? Johnson would lean heavily on Douglas for advice. It’s a double-edged decision.
In one sense, you could say the struggling Darnold would benefit from stability as he continues to learn Gase and his system. After all, he has started 16 games under Gase.
The counterargument is it’s not working and he needs a new voice in his ear, whether it’s offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains or running backs coach Jim Bob Cooter, a former coordinator with the Detroit Lions.
From all indications, Darnold is a strong Gase supporter. That counts for something.
How much influence does Douglas have?
The way the organization is structured, Douglas and Gase are on the same level, both reporting to Johnson. So, no, Douglas doesn’t control Gase’s fate, but let’s be real: With a six-year contract, Douglas is the power player. His opinion counts.
The former Philadelphia Eagles executive took the job, in part, because of Gase, who actually drove to his home in South Jersey to sell him on the position. He probably feels a sense of loyalty to the embattled coach, which could buy Gase more time. Despite the team’s struggles, the coach and GM get along well, sources said. At some point, though, friendship becomes secondary to wins and losses.
Who would take over as interim coach?
The obvious candidate is defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a former NFL head coach who went 5-3 as the Cleveland Browns’ interim in 2018. The play of his defense doesn’t scream, “Promotion!” — but he has done this interim gig and is well-respected in the building. He’s a fiery coach with a commanding presence, and he would probably give the team a short-term jolt.
Don’t expect a miracle, though. Not only is the roster thin and the schedule hard, but history suggests interim coaches don’t make a difference. Since 2010, there have been 22 interims, and their combined record is 46-74 — a .383 winning percentage.
Then again, the Jets’ winning percentage over the same span (.417) isn’t much better.
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