The Jets’ new coach shares his take on Geno Smith’s broken jaw, Sheldon Richardson’s suspension and why he’s remaining so calm
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — As Todd Bowles walked through the indoor field at Jets’ headquarters on Wednesday afternoon, his partially replaced right knee wrapped in ice, he came upon his star defender giving an interview. There was Darrelle Revis, sitting on a bench and preparing to answer a question about how Bowles’s defensive style compares to that of other coaches the cornerback has played for. Before Revis could speak, Bowles chimed in. “Yes, what are they?” he said, walking by without breaking stride. “Come on, coach,” a laughing Revis teased back.
Bowles’ easy rapport with perhaps the most important player in the locker room is critical. Just seven months into his tenure as the Jets’ head coach, Bowles has already faced a crisis heard ’round the NFL. Geno Smith’s broken jaw, inflicted by IK Enemkpali’s locker-room punch, has knocked the prospective starting quarterback out six to 10 weeks. That imbroglio occurred just a few weeks after defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was charged with resisting arrest, which could keep him off the field for longer than his four-game drug suspension. Bowles, who inherited the majority of his roster, was suddenly faced with holding his team together under the glare of the New York and national media.
Who is Todd Bowles? And what is he made of as a leader? The MMQB sat down with him this week to find out.
VRENTAS: You’ve had an interesting week. When you first heard what had happened between Smith and Enemkpali, what was your first reaction? Was there a part of you that thought someone was trying to prank you?
BOWLES: No. This is football. They’re grown men, and they’ve got to handle things better. You handle it the same way you handle any crisis, whether it was Sheldon’s thing or whether it was something else. You’re disappointed, and then you’ve got to look for solutions.
‘I don’t put up any fronts,’ Bowles says. ‘What you see is what you get.’
VRENTAS: There’s not a road map for how a head coach should handle one player punching another one in the locker room.
BOWLES: Definitely not. Not a road map. But if you’ve been in this business long enough you see quite a few things that happen. You just don’t want it to be your team, but when it’s your team, you’ve got to have a good pulse of your team to see how you handle it.
VRENTAS: Was there a situation from your playing or coaching career that has been helpful?
BOWLES: My whole career (chuckles). You see a lot, and you go through a lot. It doesn’t necessarily have to be on your team. It can be on different teams. You try to learn from others’ mistakes so it doesn’t have to be yours. Over your whole career, you see a lot in this business, so nothing really surprises you. The first time you’re like, Wow; then the next time, you’re like, OK; then just nothing surprises you. You don’t want it to happen, but you’ve got to deal with it.
VRENTAS: You were an interim head coach before, after the head coach was fired in Miami, and you were an interim defensive coordinator in Philadelphia, after the defensive coordinator was fired. What did those experiences teach you about holding players together in turbulent situations?
BOWLES: It teaches you to be yourself, and not to get too high or too low when situations happen. You’ve just got to be ready to handle them. Because if you panic, everybody else panics. You can’t panic.
VRENTAS: Are you watching to see how players handle last week’s incident as test of sorts for what you have in the locker room?
BOWLES: I know what I have in there. We have some good guys, and we have some good leaders in that locker room. That’s not even a question. Every day is a test, and things come up, and you learn how to handle them together. It’s easy to handle them by yourself, but as a team, you have to handle them together. You have to be walking on the same page.
VRENTAS: Did what happened last week cause you to change any part of your approach as a head coach?
BOWLES: No, you can’t change your approach. Certain things are going to happen that are out of your control. You have to make sure everybody knows and understands and makes sure it doesn’t happen again.
VRENTAS: Will it affect how you view or coach Geno?
BOWLES: Not one thing. Nothing changed.
VRENTAS: You coached with Bill Parcells for two seasons in Dallas, when you were the Cowboys’ secondary coach. What did you take from being a part of his staff?
BOWLES: Everybody talks about the snarl and the demeanor, but he’s a very sharp, intelligent guy. I don’t think he gets enough credit for being such a smart football coach. And he teaches you the ball game. He’s a no-excuse, no-nonsense guy, but he teaches you how to coach the game, how to see the game, and he taught a lot of people how to play the game. On that staff, in 2005, we had a bunch of people who were pretty good coaches: [Sean] Payton, [Tony] Sparano, [Todd] Haley, Kacy Rodgers.
VRENTAS: You’re the seventh member of that ’05 Cowboys staff hired as a head coach.
BOWLES: That says a lot about [Parcells]. It doesn’t say anything about us. It says a lot about him, and how he picks and grooms coaches, and what he can do with people, and how he sees talent and develops talent. He’s a Hall of Famer, and that says a bunch about him.
VRENTAS: Your most recent influence before becoming a head coach was Bruce Arians in Arizona. What rubbed off from him?
BOWLES: Bruce was my college head coach, so being a head coach with him in the league, he trusted me to be myself. Bruce’s [mentality] is defend every blade of grass, and always try to win every game. So he taught me the “no fear” attitude, which I already had, but he ensured it. And you play to win, all the time. In case of doubt, you play full speed. You don’t back off; you’re going for all or nothing.
VRENTAS: “No fear” in what respect?
BOWLES: How you play the game. Don’t be afraid to take chances and do things. Just play the game as you see it. If you have a thought, let it go through. Don’t second-guess yourself. Just go ahead and do it, and you live with the results.
VRENTAS: He always did that on offense. Go deep, and don’t settle for the check-downs.
BOWLES: Yes, he did. But it was calculated. It wasn’t just a whole aerial show. It was calculated in the things he did. When it’s calculated, don’t have any doubts. Just make sure you pull the trigger.
VRENTAS: Your defense has played that way, blitzing as much as you did in Arizona last season.
BOWLES: We did. But again, it was all calculated. Those guys were good players. They made me look good.
VRENTAS: Did you talk to Arians after what happened last week?
BOWLES: He texted me, to make sure I was alright. I said I was fine. He said OK, if you need to vent, let me know. I said OK.
VRENTAS: Have you taken him up on that offer?
BOWLES: No, he’s got his own team to run. You don’t do that. (laughs) In the offseason, though, I might vent to him a little bit.
VRENTAS: You’ve put up a strong front publicly responding to crises on your team. Do you feel like you’ve responded well?
BOWLES: I don’t put up any fronts. What you see is what you get. You don’t look back and say you’ve done a good or bad job. It’s a learning process. I don’t care if you’ve been a coach in this league for 10, 15 years, it’s an ever-growing process. You just try to weather the storm the best you can, and move forward and make sure the team is focused. There will be more things that come up throughout my coaching career, I’m sure. And you handle that as they come.
VRENTAS: The transition from coordinator to head coach is always an interesting one. How have you balanced your responsibilities?
BOWLES: It’s still a work in progress. You try to do a little bit of one thing one week, then you do a little bit the next week. You try to put your foot in where needed until you get a good feel for your team, which I think I do at this point. It’s a steady balancing act. You don’t ever get to say, I’m doing one thing all the time. It’s always a little bit of this, a little bit of that.
VRENTAS: Have you decided whether you want to call the defense during the regular season?
BOWLES: No, because [in the first preseason game], we were just letting guys play. There was no game-planning or play-calling really involved. It was very generic, and we were just trying to make sure guys could run around fast and know what they were doing. We’ll get a good feel these next two games coming up. A lot of other coaches [call plays], so it’s no big deal. You just want to see where your your team is at before you do that.
VRENTAS: What identity do you want your defense to have?
BOWLES: Aggressive. We’re going to try to be an offensive defensive team. We try to dictate and not be dictated to. That’s pretty much what it is.
VRENTAS: In picking an offensive coordinator, did you want someone who would complement that style?
BOWLES: It’s whole different set of circumstances. You don’t want him to be conservative, but you want him to be well-rounded. You want him to be able to teach, first of all. I wanted a good balance between the run game and the pass game. I wanted a guy that I know could command a room, but yet relate to the players and get his point across, and do a bunch of things that we do on defense but from an offensive standpoint. Chan [Gailey] was that guy.
VRENTAS: When news of the locker room fight broke, and Ryan Fitzpatrick stepped into the starting role, there were some people in the league who were more concerned about facing Fitzpatrick early in the season because of his long history in Gailey’s system. How big of a factor was that familiarity with the offense in bringing Fitzpatrick in?
BOWLES: You bring him in because he’s played a bunch of games in this league and he’s smart. You bring him in because he knows how to play. We brought him in because we still thought he could be a good player.
VRENTAS: With Rex Ryan in Buffalo and Mike Tannenbaum in Miami, your division rivals are people who have been in this building—they either coached or drafted your players. What kind of impact will that have on those games?
BOWLES: It makes it more interesting from a fan standpoint and a commentary standpoint. As a coach, you can’t approach it any other way. If you’re in this league long enough, you’re going to bounce around some places. All those guys have been in this building before. But that doesn’t have any bearing on the football game, so you’ve got to kind of keep it separate.
VRENTAS: But these are guys who know your players’ motivations, know their strengths and weaknesses, have coached them or drafted them.
BOWLES: I’ve been a lot of places where they’ve coached my players. That’s not a big deal. Players play for whatever reason they play. They play because they want to show those guys they can still play, and they play for themselves, and they play for the team. It is very interesting having all of them in the same division, though. I can’t recall that before. It’s interesting.
VRENTAS: Your reputation so far has been that you are understated. Will that change?
BOWLES: I just go with what the day says. If everything isn’t going right, I’ll probably be upset. If things are, I’ll probably be calm. If there are big plays, I’ll be excited. I just coach. I don’t worry about the understatement or the overstatement. Your personality comes out as it goes. You can’t just make one.
VRENTAS: What makes you believe in your team this season?
BOWLES: The guys we have, and the coaches we have coaching those guys. We’ve got some proven players and guys that have been dong it for a while. And we have some exciting new young guys. If we can jell, and the chemistry can come together, and the injury bug doesn’t bite us, we have a chance to have a solid team.
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