FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – With virtually every coaching job in any sport, at any level, in any year, there is almost always a honeymoon period, a feeling-out process where said coach is free of the criticism and second-guessing that eventually crops up once the games roll around.
In the case of Adam Gase, the honeymoon is over before he even sets foot on the sideline in a training camp practice.
The Jets’ coach is already at the center of controversy in the wake of general manager Mike Maccagnan’s firing. He has been ripped by fans who think he backstabbed Maccagnan and prompted CEO Christopher Johnson to choose the coach over the GM. He has been scorned on social media and criticized for his motives. And on Thursday, during his first full session with reporters since Maccagnan’s ouster, there were plenty of testy exchanges between Gase and reporters inquiring about reports of infighting that led to the GM’s ouster.
That may have been the most short-lived honeymoon in sports history.
But none of it seemed to matter to Gase, who didn’t seem to mind the back-and-forth that came with the questions and skepticism that came his way during a 14-minute media session. He pushed back against the notion that he was behind the firing; that was all Johnson’s call, Gase said. He refuted the suggestion that he doesn’t want running back Le’Veon Bell on the team because the Jets paid him too much on his $52.5 million free agent deal. And he insisted that there was no personal animosity with Maccagnan, even though the two men disagreed on some football-related decisions.
“It’s part of the job,” he said. “If you’re not disagreeing, am I doing my job?”
This is the time of year when coaches speak in platitudes about their teams, when optimism comes in heaping doses with the regular season so far off in the distance. The players work out in helmets and shorts, and the practices are spirited and cheerful.
The Gase inquisition was a reminder that the front-office tumult will require time to sort through, and that only after a replacement for Maccagnan is hired can the controversy begin to fade. But Gase did provide an early glimpse of what life will be like around here, and he made it clear that he will not shy away from his reputation as an alpha male unafraid to mix it up when he feels he must.
When it was suggested that the optics of Maccagnan’s demise and Gase’s thirst for power weren’t optimal, the coach said, “That’s fine. That’s what I get paid for. I get paid to take all the bullets.”
In less than 15 minutes, Gase may have been more combative than Todd Bowles was over his four-year run as head coach. There is surely more to come.
Gase now coaches in the most intense market in the NFL, and he has learned quickly that the scrutiny will lead to some dicey moments. The fact that he doesn’t mind pushing back at the controversy – in fact, he almost seems to embrace it – suggests we may be in for another Rex Ryan-type era. Gase may not come close to Ryan’s in-your-face quotes, and there’s little chance he’ll pull off news conference shenanigans like Ryan.
But Gase has already shown that he doesn’t mind parrying with the press, even if he doesn’t have the jokes and magnetic personality to go along with it.
More importantly, the players don’t seem negatively affected by the controversy surrounding the coach.
“Business is business,” third-year safety Jamal Adams said of Maccagnan’s firing. “I’ve been here for two years, I’ve heard it all. It doesn’t bother me. We’re not focused on that. That’s outside noise. All we can do is focus on what’s in the building.”
Gase himself knows the bottom line is what happens on the field.
“Our fans care if we win or lose,” he said. “We win games, nobody’s going to remember this. Our job is to win.”
He’s right about that. If Gase is truly a quarterback whisperer who brings out the best in Sam Darnold and leads the Jets back to respectability, and if he ends up with a general manager to carry out his vision of success, then none of this will matter.