Five challenges for Jets’ Adam Gase as he attacks one of NFL’s toughest jobs

First-year Jets coach Adam Gase will have his work cut out for him as he tries to steer the franchise into the playoffs for the first time in eight years. 

Instead of spending his days in a dark office, breaking down hours and hours of game tape, Adam Gase has made an effort to leave his coach’s cocoon to visit other departments in the New York Jets‘ sprawling facility in Florham Park, New Jersey. Make no mistake, Gase is consumed by football, but sometimes a coach needs to set aside the X’s and O’s in favor of a few hellos.

“He talks with me, he talks with the coaches, he’s over on the business side — and coaches never go over on the business side,” CEO Christopher Johnson said. “He really has integrated himself into our organization in a way that is just super positive.”

On Monday morning, Gase will have his first meeting with the most important department in the entire building — the players.

The team will gather for the start of the offseason program, which runs through June 13. It’s voluntary, technically, except for the June 4-6 minicamp. This is a big moment for Gase, who gets his first chance to stand before the team that, up until four months ago, was a divisional rival.

If the players expect to see the seemingly distracted coach whose performance at his introductory news conference spawned a spate of embarrassing memes, they will be surprised. In a football setting, Gase can be tough, fiery, humorous and R-rated. His players in Denver used to have contests trying to predict how many times he would curse in a meeting. He grew up in the Midwest, but he has a salty vocabulary New Yorkers will appreciate.

On Monday, the objective is to send a message and set a tone.

“[I want to] let those guys know, whatever happened before, I really don’t care,” he said. “Whoever you are from this day forward, that’s who I’m going to know. You could’ve been late, disruptive and a terrible football player. When April 8 starts, you can be on time, great in the locker room and play well — and that’s what I’m going to know. To me, it’s a fresh start for everybody because that’s what it has to be. We’re moving forward.”

Gase, for one, should appreciate the value of a fresh start. After he made the playoffs in his first season with the Miami Dolphins, his career went sideways with a 13-19 record over the past two seasons, with the offense — his offense — finishing 31st in total yards in 2018. In less than three years, he went from Wonder Boy to Recycled Coach. The Jets saw enough in Gase to entrust him with their rebuilding project, which hinges, in large part, on the development of quarterback Sam Darnold.

Unlike his predecessor, Todd Bowles, who exuded quiet strength, Gase is outwardly competitive. The players will notice that immediately.

“I don’t like to lose,” he said. “I don’t like to lose at free agency; I don’t like to lose at anything. That’s just how I am. When we hit the preseason, in my head, I want to win. That’s my competitive nature. When we walk out to OTA [practice] 1, in my head I’ll be thinking, ‘Did [defensive coordinator] Gregg Williams win or did we win on offense?’ I know I’m the head coach, but at that moment, that’s how I’m thinking.”

Gase walks into one of the toughest jobs in the NFL. The Jets have gone 50 years without a Super Bowl, eight years without a playoff appearance and three years without a winning record. For now, these are his top five challenges:

1. Establish a level of accountability: People in the organization felt this was lacking under Bowles, who rarely benched players for performance. If a player won a job in the preseason, he kept it for the year unless he was injured (see: Geno Smith, broken jaw) or unless it was blatantly obvious he was hurting the team. Even then, there was no guarantee he would be benched (see: Spencer Long, snapping misadventures). A former player, Bowles showed loyalty to his players, which endeared him to the locker room. But there was no fear factor.

Gase must change that. If he wants to create a winning culture, which he talks about, he has to let the players know that “OK” is not good enough. The Jets never will end this cycle of mediocrity unless they raise the standard within their own locker room. It’s a Herculean task, but it can be done. Rex Ryan had some success, using his bravado to fuel the team’s confidence.

From all indications, Gase can be that tough guy. Because he never played at the college or pro level, he has less patience for players who aren’t all-in with a football-first mentality, according to people who know him. In Miami, he demoted players, shipped out a few stars and cut a couple of marginal players in message-sending moves. The Jets need that kind of approach.

2. Build chemistry on the coaching staff: A lot of folks around the league are curious to see how Gase, Williams & Co. get along. At a recent pro day, a personnel director from an AFC team told me, “You’ll have some fireworks to cover this year.”

Gase and Williams, working together for the first time, are headstrong personalities. The TV networks might want to consider a “coach cam” for the sideline. It’ll be particularly fascinating during training camp, when it’s Gase’s offense versus Williams’ defense.

“I certainly haven’t seen anything adversarial at this point, but we’ll see what happens when we get to practice,” Johnson said. “It should be fun. It might be spicy.”

Gase added another wrinkle by hiring his father-in-law, Joe Vitt, to coach the outside linebackers — the same Vitt who testified against Williams in the New Orleans Saints‘ BountyGate scandal in 2012. Gase insists Vitt and Williams have buried the hatchet, but what happens if the defense starts to struggle? Can they coexist when adversity strikes?

Another player in this compelling drama is Blake Williams, Gregg’s son. He was hired as a “defensive assistant,” usually a low-level job, but there are some in the league who believe Blake will have a bigger role than his title suggests.

The spring will be a good chance for Gase & Co. to get acclimated in a low-stress environment. Gase believes the outside noise has galvanized the staff, with the coaches determined to show everyone they can be a happy family.

3. Install the offense: Sadly, this is an annual tradition for the Jets. This will be their fourth different offense in four years and their seventh in the past nine years. It’s no wonder they’ve struggled so much on that side of the ball. The good thing about having an offensive-minded coach — Gase — is they won’t have to change systems if he fires the coordinator or loses his coordinator (Dowell Loggains) to a head-coaching job, because this is Gase’s show.

Because of league-mandated restrictions, this week will be the first time he can conduct meetings and teach his playbook to the players — which is rather ridiculous when you think about it. Wide receivers Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa, both of whom were frustrated with one-dimensional roles in the previous offense, have expressed optimism about having more opportunities under Gase.

Gase also has to integrate two new pieces into the system, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Jamison Crowder. Gase believes there’s potential for an explosive offense, but as he noted, “We need to have a meeting first so everyone can know what our offense actually is.”

4. Solidify a relationship with Darnold: This is big. This is one of the key reasons Gase got the job: his background with quarterbacks. He said this will be different because it’s his first time mentoring a young quarterback — he apparently isn’t counting Tim Tebow, 2010-12 — but it’s imperative he establishes a strong bond with Darnold. If the Jets want to get turned around, it has to start with the two of them.

“My biggest thing is, I’m always going to stress to him an open dialogue,” Gase said. “… Really, the open dialogue is critical for me and the quarterback.”

Darnold has been working on his own, mainly in California. He said he’s concentrating on three areas: ball security, mechanics (pointing his hip toward the target) and footwork. Specifically, he wants to “quiet my feet, just calm down a little bit in the pocket,” he said.

5. Cultivate his rapport with Mike Maccagnan: Gase and the general manager, football strangers until mid-January, have since spent a lot of time together, talking about the roster and philosophy. With the draft approaching, the sense of urgency will increase. Maccagnan has the final say on the draft and all personnel decisions, but he’s listening to input from Gase, who is watching tape on the top prospects.

“I like Adam a lot, his personality and his energy, really just working with him,” Maccagnan said. “He definitely has a clear idea of what he likes, what he wants.”

Gase said it took him three years to get in sync with his former Dolphins GM, Chris Grier, which shows it’s not an overnight process.

“We’ll keep developing our relationship,” Gase said of Maccagnan. “We’ll keep working together and we’ll keep figuring each other out.”

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