Todd Bowles gets the drill.
In a bottom-line business in which the only thing that matters is how many wins you have, Bowles understands that his own bottom line isn’t good enough. About to complete his third straight season with double-digit losses, Bowles realizes that he almost certainly will be coaching his final game with the Jets when he faces Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
“You win or you lose,” he said. “It’s not horseshoes.”
From Day One, Bowles knew he’d be judged by how many wins he produced.
“We’re going to be a tough team, an intelligent team,” he said upon being introduced as the Jets’ coach on Jan. 21, 2015. “We’re going to try to build a championship team here, and that’s my only job.”
He didn’t get the job done.
Bowles won 10 games his first season and, if not for a colossal meltdown by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in a win-and-in opportunity in Buffalo in the final week of the season, he would have made the playoffs that year. But that was as close as he’d get to earning a chance at a Super Bowl, and his record with the Jets now stands at 24-39.
“I’m not a close guy,” Bowles said of the six games the Jets have lost by eight or fewer points, including last Sunday’s gut-wrenching 44-38 overtime loss to the Packers at MetLife Stadium. “You have to win them, or you lose them. We’ve lost them right now, we’re playing them tough, but we got to come out on the other side.”
Bowles likely won’t get the chance to get to the other side. Barring an unexpected decision by Jets CEO Christopher Johnson to retain the coach, someone else will get the chance to work with franchise quarterback Sam Darnold and try to do what no Jets team since Joe Namath’s 1968 club has done: win a Super Bowl, or even get to one.
But if this is it for the 55-year-old coach, who has his own Super Bowl ring as a safety for the 1987 Washington Redskins, he at least can be satisfied about creating a team that never quit on him. It is a credit to Bowles’ straightforward, no-nonsense style that there was almost no locker- room bickering once he and general manager Mike Maccagnan moved on from disgruntled players such as Sheldon Richardson, Brandon Marshall, Mo Wilkerson and even Darrelle Revis, who had become a divisive figure by the end of his second run with the team.
A young core featuring safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, linebacker Jordan Jenkins, defensive tackle Leonard Williams and now Darnold played hard for Bowles throughout. And though the coach can rightly be faulted for not getting the most out of his team — especially the mistake-filled defense over which he presided — the players’ resilience was a testament to Bowles.
“We’ll have relationships long after football,” Bowles said of his players. “[But] that’s really what you look at for the future. We’re here to win ballgames. I got to do my job, they got to do their job.”
The job wasn’t good enough, although that’s not only on Bowles. A roster reconstruction that began in earnest after a 5-11 season in 2016 is still riddled with holes that Maccagnan hasn’t filled, and any coach would be hard-pressed to win consistently with such an incomplete group.
If Maccagnan does get the chance to stay, he must make plenty of improvements, particularly along the offensive line, running back and the pass rush. Especially the pass rush, which has been an Achilles' heel for years.
The move to re-sign wide receiver Quincy Enunwa to a multiyear deal Friday was a good start. Enunwa is part of that solid young core of players who can help lead this team in the next few seasons. There is nearly $100 million in salary-cap space for the upcoming offseason, and a top-five draft pick also awaits.
Darnold needs more playmakers to hasten his development, and there is a chance to get a running back such as Le’Veon Bell, who sat out the entire season in a contract dispute with the Steelers. And it’s a draft rich in defensive linemen, so there is a chance for further replenishment at a position of need.
Re-establishing a more positive culture might be Bowles’ most meaningful legacy, and the consistent theme stressed by players that their failures were on themselves, and not the coaching staff, augurs well for whoever comes next. Loyalty is a cherished commodity in an NFL locker room, and Bowles’ building of that loyalty will go a long way toward establishing future success.
That Bowles faces the mighty Patriots in what is expected to be his final game is a fitting conclusion. The Patriots have been the AFC East’s gold standard for nearly two decades, and not even Rex Ryan could dethrone them in that time. He had that remarkable playoff victory over Belichick after the 2010 season, but that was the high-water mark for the franchise since the Belichick-Tom Brady partnership was formed in 2001.
With Brady showing signs of slippage and the Patriots stumbling in recent weeks, there could be an eventual changing of the guard. If Darnold continues his steady growth, the Jets might be the ones to take advantage.
Bowles knows there are only so many chances a coach gets, and he appears to have had his last one.
He gets it.
After his final practice of the season — and most likely his last with the Jets — on Friday, Bowles was asked how he would assess his performance in 2018. His reply?
“The record says it all.”
Five potential candidates to become the Jets' next head coach if Todd Bowles does not return:
Mike McCarthy, former Packers coach. McCarthy is an offensive-minded head coach with a Super Bowl victory on his resume — a good combination for a team with a young quarterback in Sam Darnold.
Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma head coach. Riley said he isn’t ready to make the jump to the NFL just yet, but he’s still worth contacting because of his fine work in developing Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
Matt LaFleur, Titans offensive coordinator. LaFleur has gotten the most out of the Titans’ offense this year and is considered one of the NFL’s bright young minds.
Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator. A former NFL running back, Bieniemy now works under Andy Reid, whose coaching tree has blossomed with the likes of Doug Pederson, Matt Nagy and John Harbaugh.
Zac Taylor, Rams quarterbacks coach. A former Nebraska quarterback, Taylor has helped Rams quarterback Jared Goff continue to flourish. His coaching inexperience may work against him, but he’s part of a new wave of young coaches pushing the limits of the passing game.