FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Todd Bowles looked surprised when told Thursday that he is the second-longest tenured coach in New York after Joe Girardi’s dismissal as the Yankees’ manager.
“Interesting,” the Jets coach said.
When asked if that blows his mind a little, Bowles smiled again and said, “No, not until you said it. I don’t know. It’s a fun fact, I guess.”
It’s a stunning fact, actually. With another coaching/managerial casualty in the most demanding market in North America, Bowles is second only to Rangers coach Alain Vigneault in continuous service. And Bowles has been on the job for a mere 39 games.
Since Bowles was hired Jan. 14, 2015, the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Nets, Knicks, Devils and Islanders have made coaching changes. And with Vigneault scuffling this season, there’s a chance Bowles might be New York’s longest-tenured coach in the not too distant future.
Bowles came into the season on the hot seat after a 5-11 finish, and a roster overhaul led to predictions of doom. More than a few observers wondered whether the Jets might go 0-16. But they have exceeded expectations — at least the ones from outside the locker room — and are still very much alive at 3-4. Even after losing back-to-back games against the Patriots and Dolphins, there is still genuine optimism in the locker room that this can be a playoff team.
Bowles takes no comfort that he has avoided the fate that even champions Girardi and Tom Coughlin experienced. “I don’t think about it,” he said.
Bowles also isn’t satisfied with the results, even if the Jets have been surprisingly competitive. When I asked if he’s pleased with the job he’s done, he tilted his head and widened his eyes in surprise.
“Nooooo,” he said.
Even though he has exceeded the expectations of a lot of people.
“I don’t worry about the expectations of other people,” he said. “I only worry about mine.”
And you expect?
“The best,” he said. “That’s the only way you can survive.”
His players aren’t surprised at the attitude, although Leonard Williams was shocked to learn about Bowles’ sudden elevation to near the top of the food chain among New York coaches. “Man, that’s crazy. I have to tell Bowles congrats,” Williams joked.
The defensive tackle is grateful to have worked under Bowles in all three of his NFL seasons.
“I think Coach Bowles has always been the same guy, and that’s why I like him so much,” Williams said. “He’s always been a guy who holds us accountable, holds us to a high standard, makes us run if we mess up on a play. He’ll always shoot it straight. He’ll come up to me one-on-one and tell me what he needs from me, and it gives me a clear understanding of what I have to work on.”
Williams recalled a message from Bowles last week that resonated with the team.
“We were a .500 team at 3-3, and he said, ‘Don’t be comfortable just because we won three games and everybody was counting us out,’ ” Williams said. “He said, ‘That’s still not our standard. We probably exceeded other people’s standards, but not ours.’ ”
It’s the right message for a mostly young team still finding its way and dealing with the inevitable growing pains of a roster in transition. The last two losses, in which the Jets lost 14-point leads, were the latest reminder that good is simply not good enough.
“I love that he’s hard on himself, because at the end of the day, 0-16 wasn’t our standards,” Williams said. “It wasn’t our expectations. That was the outside expectations.”
With nine games to go, the Jets either can rebound from the disappointments of the last two weeks or go down a slippery slope toward the hopelessness that was forecast for them. And as this team goes, so goes Bowles’ fate.
In a place where impatience with coaches never has been more pronounced, at least he’s still standing.