Adam Gase grew testy when asked last Friday about reports that his relationship with general manager Mike Maccagnan had become rocky in recent weeks.
“I don’t know who decides to put that stuff out there,” Gase told reporters in his first availability after last month's NFL Draft. “It kind of pisses me off a little bit.”
What Gase didn’t say was whether the reports actually were true or not. And now we know.
The relationship wasn’t just rocky, it was irretrievably broken.
Less than four months after Maccagnan and chief operating officer Christopher Johnson signed off on hiring Gase as the replacement for Todd Bowles, Gase completed a stunning power play that resulted in Maccagnan’s ouster. Johnson informed Maccagnan on Wednesday morning that he was out.
Then again, this is the Jets, so this kind of dysfunction has been all too believable – and real – over the years. But this one is right up there with the best – or worst – of the wacky ill-fated moves. The Bill Belichick resignation. The Al Groh resignation. The Tim Tebow circus. The John Idzik nightmare. And so many other bumbling moves.
What sets apart the Maccagnan fiasco is the timing. Had Johnson decided after the season to make a clean sweep by firing Bowles and Maccagnan at the same time, it would have been acceptable. But Johnson expressed his support for the general manager, included him in the process of hiring a new coach and went through a critically important offseason with Maccagnan calling the shots.
That offseason resulted in a sweeping roster makeover that included several key acquisitions, namely running back Le’Veon Bell, linebacker C.J. Mosley, wide receiver Jamison Crowder and guard Kelechi Osemele. It also included the No. 3 overall pick, which turned out to be Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. The Jets also drafted pass rusher Jachai Polite of Florida in the third round.
Johnson said on a conference call Wednesday afternoon that he didn’t feel comfortable making a move with Maccagnan until now.
“It was only through diving deep into the organization,” he said. “It was only through going through this particular off-season deeply that I understood how this organization was lacking in certain ways. This isn’t a decision that I could have made at the end of the season. I could with Todd [Bowles]. I could not with Mike. There’s no great time to make this decision, but by diving deep in this organization I had a better idea of what was wrong and where I wanted to head with this.”
Reports of friction between Gase and Maccagnan surfaced shortly before the draft, but Maccagnan tamped down suggestions the problems were anything more than the usual give-and-take between a coach who is more interested in the here-and-now and a GM who needs to be mindful of both the present and the future. Maccagnan received assurances from Johnson that his job was safe.
But behind the scenes, Gase clearly was unhappy and making it known that his differences with Maccagnan over personnel issues were more than garden variety disagreements. It is now an open secret that Gase and Eagles vice president of personnel Joe Douglas, who worked together when Gase was a Bears assistant, have a strong chance of being reunited. Douglas is now considered the favorite to land the GM job, although the Jets will conduct a search.
Surely Johnson realizes that in hindsight, it would have been far more prudent to clear the decks of the entire football operation when he fired Bowles. While it is a heavy lift to hire both a coach and general manager at the same time, there’s every reason to believe someone such as Douglas would have been involved in the GM search. Gase almost certainly would have mentioned his connection with the personnel executive in his job interview, and if Johnson had a conviction on Gase, then it would have made perfect sense to hire the two together.
Instead, Maccagnan made heavy investments on key players now tied to the Jets – and Gase. Bell was a prized free-agent running back who got less than the $15 million a season he was asking, but Gase apparently thought that was still too much to pay a running back in today’s NFL. How’s that relationship going to work? Will Bell trust a coach who wasn’t completely sold on every aspect of his arrival?
It stands to reason that Bell wouldn’t be with the Jets if Gase had more authority over the roster, or if Douglas – or someone else – were the GM from the start. Now you have to wonder whether a wedge has been driven between the coach and the player. All the more reason Johnson badly mistimed his decision to change GMs in midstream.
And what about Gase himself? We are talking about a coach who has a 23-26 record in three seasons with the Dolphins. Gase doesn’t have the cachet of Belichick, but by being named the interim GM by Johnson on Wednesday, he already has seized some of the kind of power that the six-time Super Bowl champion coach has in New England.
Gase just invited a lot more pressure and scrutiny by pushing Maccagnan out the door.
Same with Johnson, who presides over a team that continually finds ways to stumble.
The Maccagnan debacle is simply the latest iteration.