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Adam Gase’s Biggest Reason for Taking the Jets’ HC Job? A Chance at Developing Sam Darnold

Gase coached the best out of a handful of quarterbacks—Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler, to name two—but couldn’t quite get the best out of Ryan Tannehill in Miami. Can he reach the same level of success with Sam Darnold?

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Before Adam Gase coached his last game at the helm of the Miami Dolphins, he placed a phone call to Peyton Manning.

“I let him know, ‘Hey, something might go down on Monday, and I’m not really 100%,’” Gase recalled. “He was a little surprised, but he had a couple things that we talked about, and if that did happen, the way I should go about things.”

Gase shared that story at his opening press conference as the new head coach of the New York Jets, two weeks after he was fired by the Dolphins. He confirmed that he had a sense that he may be on the outs even before the Dolphins’ final game of the season, in which they got blown out 42–17 at Buffalo, one of three straight losses to end the season. When Gase indeed found himself out of a job, and was one of several candidates the Jets interviewed for their opening, Manning gave the team a vote of confidence in Gase, his quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator on John Fox’s staff in Denver.

So, what are the Jets getting in Gase? His introduction to the New York media did not give a lot of insight, but as Jets fans know well, winning a press conference doesn’t translate into winning a championship. Or, as Jets CEO Christopher Johnson put it, “I’m not trying to win Twitter, I’m trying to win football games.” Johnson also said they “back-channeled” some of the criticism from Gase’s former players, such as receiver Jarvis Landry, who was traded to Cleveland before the 2018 season and seemed to celebrate Gase’s firing on social media. “In the end,” Johnson said, “I was very comfortable that those particular situates don’t matter to me.”

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Manning clearly believes the Jets are getting the sharp offensive mind he could not out-work during their three seasons together in Denver, including 2013, when Manning passed for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns in a season that ended with a Super Bowl loss to Seattle. Gase was also Tim Tebow’s QBs coach during Tebowmania, and during one season as the Bears OC, coaxed out the highest QB rating of Jay Cutler's career. On the flip side, Gase’s offenses during three seasons in Miami never ranked higher than 24th in total yards and 17th in scoring, both of which happened in 2016. His final record in Miami was a mediocre 23-25.

Gase didn’t give a lot of specific answers publicly about why his offenses weren’t especially prolific in Miami, though he loosely referenced losing some key pieces—namely, their quarterback. Ryan Tannehill’s best year was with Gase was their first year together, 2016, when the Dolphins went 10-6, earning a playoff berth. But Tannehill partially tore his ACL at the end of that season and did not play in the wild-card round loss to the Steelers—nor did he have offseason surgery, in an odd decision by the team. Tannehill re-injured that same knee in training camp, missing the entire 2017 season. In total, Gase’s starting QB played just 24 of the coach’s 48 games as the Dolphins head coach.

The Dolphins chose to begin a rebuild in earnest this offseason, with a new head coach and with GM Chris Grier promoted to a role in which he controls all of football operations, which he did not do before. Meanwhile, Gase is starting again, in the same division the Patriots have dominated this entire millennium.

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Jets fans recall well what happened to Rex Ryan, who was fired by the Jets after the 2014 season and immediately took another job in the AFC East, with the Bills. He lasted only two years there. It would be unfair to compare two coaches who have little in common other than having coached AFC East teams. But the day after the Patriots advanced to their eight straight AFC Championship Game, it’s fair to wonder about the gamble of using two head-coaching shots in Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s division. (Gase’s Dolphins teams did beat the Patriots two out of six times, both in South Florida).

“Obviously, they’ve had unbelievable success, and there’s good reason why,” Gase said Monday. “Going against those guys the last three years, it’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge that if you are in coaching, you want that. If you are a player you want that. For us, it’s about getting our crew ready to go, our players, so when our opportunity comes, when we play them or anyone else we give ourselves the best chance to win.”

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It was the right answer—though what else was Gase going to say? At another point, he mentioned that it was “very intriguing” to stay in the same division, so that he could build on the knowledge he already has of the AFC East opponents. But ultimately, the biggest factor for his taking this job was something he’s never quite had in his 16 years coaching in the NFL: a 21-year-old, No. 3 draft pick who is entering just his second season. Gase said Sam Darnold was the No. 1 reason he took this job, and praised the quarterback’s quick release, movement skills, pocket presence and mastery of the team’s offense as a rookie. Developing a QB is just one piece of a head coach’s job, but it's an important one, and the Jets chose Gase because they believe he is the right person to do that.

As we’ve learned with Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin and Pete Carroll, head coaches do not always make the same mistakes in their second opportunities as they did in their first. Of course, there are plenty of other examples of coaches who have. Gase said he did not consider taking a year off between jobs—if he wasn’t a head coach this season, he said he would have looked to be an offensive coordinator somewhere.

But instead, he was sitting in a crowded auditorium on a Monday afternoon in January, with his wife and three kids in the front row, being introduced as the head coach of the Jets. What this moment came down to was that this was an opportunity he could not pass up: a young QB, a team flush with an expected $100 million in cap space and a second chance for the kind of success as a head coach that a future HOF quarterback believes he will have.

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