A few years ago, the hiring of Adam Gase as the Jets’ coach almost certainly would have been met with approval. And rousing approval at that.
He was a highly regarded offensive coordinator with the Broncos, earning effusive praise from none other than Peyton Manning, who was genuinely impressed with Gase’s work in Denver. Gase followed coach John Fox, whom the Broncos had fired, to Chicago, where Gase again did creditable work for an admittedly talent-starved team. He even got Jay Cutler to cut down on his poor decisions and interceptions.
But the hiring of Gase late Wednesday is being met with derision from many Jets fans starved for a winner. He had three years in Miami, where he started 10-6 and made the playoffs in 2015, but then produced losing seasons the next two years before being swept away in a major purge by owner Stephen Ross.
Coming off a 7-9 season, punctuated by a poor run down the stretch amid injuries to underachieving quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Gase left the Dolphins with a reputation far less burnished than the one with which he arrived.
So Jets fans looking for a more established leader such as Mike McCarthy, who produced a Super Bowl championship and an excellent body of work in Green Bay, were disappointed to learn it would be Gase. And others who’d imagined an out-of-the-box coach such as Kliff Kingsbury, who was fired by Texas Tech but is a gifted offensive tactician, or Baylor coach Matt Rhule, who resurrected the Temple program before taking over at Baylor after a sexual assault scandal had sullied the school’s reputation, were similarly disappointed.
In a coaching hiring cycle featuring eight openings and a small pool of worthy candidates, Gase will be viewed as a consolation prize for a team that was hoping to hit a home run with its most important coaching hire in years.
But that doesn’t mean Gase is headed for failure simply because he failed on his first try as an NFL head coach. The league is filled with examples of coaches succeeding on the second go-round. Bill Belichick was a flop in Cleveland before flourishing in New England. Tony Dungy won a Super Bowl in Indianapolis after being fired by Tampa. Tom Coughlin won two championships with the Giants after being banished by the Jaguars.
That’s not to say Gase will join those three Hall of Fame-worthy coaches in terms of his overall achievements. But it doesn’t mean he’s doomed to fail just because he didn’t get over the hump in Miami and because he now works for a team so steeped in disappointment.
Gase gets a fresh start with as talented a quarterback in Sam Darnold as he’s had since Manning produced more of his brilliant work in Denver. Gase never got more out of Tannehill because there wasn’t more for Tannehill to give. He was injured for much of the time, but even when he was healthy, Tannehill was never better than an average quarterback.
The 21-year-old Darnold has star qualities, and Gase can absolutely bring out the best in him. Then again, nothing is guaranteed in a league in which the failure rate for coaches and quarterbacks is so high. But if Gase had come to the Jets and to Darnold at the height of his reputation following his runs as a prominent assistant in Denver and Chicago, the response would have been far different. Instead, he landed with a thud when news broke Wednesday night that he emerged as the winner of an eight-man competition.
It’s up to general manager Mike Maccagnan to supply Gase with more offensive firepower around Darnold. And with the No. 3 overall pick and nearly $100 million in salary-cap space, there is a reasonable expectation the roster can be upgraded significantly to at least give the coach a fighting chance.
So, for all the skepticism being raised about his hiring, Gase has the chance to redefine his reputation and give the Jets what they’ve been seeking so desperately for all these years: hope.