FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Eight days ago, New York Jets CEO Christopher Johnson gathered the team off the practice field. It got quiet. Some players wondered, “Why is the owner talking to us?” Johnson isn’t a spotlight guy, not a big talker, so his impromptu meeting caught many by surprise.
In his understated style, Johnson told the players to ignore the outside noise about Adam Gase, that he was committed to his coach. He also happened to mention that he would love to beat the New York Giants because of the New York-New York thing. (They did, 34-27).
On Wednesday, Johnson went public, telling the world what he said behind closed doors. He delivered a strong endorsement of Gase, saying he won’t make a coaching change — not now, not after this season.
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Bold move, Cotton.
Johnson, still kind of new to the ownership thing, should have gone to the old “we’ll-evaluate-everything-after-the-season” line. Yes, that would have put Gase on the hot seat in his first season, but there’s nothing wrong with turning up the temperature under a coach’s derriere. Coaches do it to players all the time. If nothing else, it would have sent a message to the paying customers that accountability is paramount.
By declaring Gase will return in 2020, Johnson not only sent his fan base into a frenzy, but he boxed himself in. What if the Jets finish 2-14 or 3-13? What if Sam Darnold remains on the quarterback roller coaster? What if the offense continues to, you know, stink?
Johnson is so convinced that Gase, 41, is the right guy that he informed the entire team he’s standing by his man, no matter what. This declaration came last Wednesday, three days after the humiliating loss to the Miami Dolphins, when the Jets were a leaguewide laughingstock. Weird timing, huh? Johnson is doubling down on the commitment he made last January, essentially telling everyone to ignore the record (2-7) and the horrible offense (32nd in total yards) and all the penalties (25th).
The message was clear: Trust me.
This will be Johnson’s defining moment. If his coach succeeds, he will be hailed as a visionary who was able to see through the smoke. If his coach flops, he will be ripped for staying married too long, setting back the entire franchise.
If you’re a long-suffering fan, you can only hope Johnson’s faith in Gase is sincere (and well-founded), not something born from stubbornness. Gase was Johnson’s first big hire, and he desperately wants it to work. He was vilified for firing general manager Mike Maccagnan after the draft — two months after singing his praises — and a quick hook with Gase would dredge up those same questions about his leadership ability.
On the flip side, two wrongs don’t make a right. The Jets learned that lesson in 2017. They didn’t draft a quarterback, in part, because they refused to acknowledge the obvious: Christian Hackenberg, drafted in 2016, never was going to be a starter. They kept alive the charade and missed out on Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes. If Gase turns into Hackenberg, the Jets are screwed.
In explaining his endorsement for Gase, Johnson repeatedly used the word “trust.” As in: The team trusts him. GM Joe Douglas trusts him. (Of course, he does; he wouldn’t have the job if it weren’t for Gase.) Darnold trusts him. (Side note: Gase, Douglas and Darnold are represented by the same agent, Jimmy Sexton. Read into that what you will.) Something tells me Maccagnan, if polled, would have gone the other way.
In fairness to Gase, he inherited a mediocre roster — a seven-win team (my prediction) if the key players stayed healthy. They didn’t stay healthy, and the lack of depth — a byproduct of years of lousy drafting — has crippled them. Johnson’s hope is that Douglas — an unproven GM — can rebuild the talent base. His other hope is that Gase, an unproven winner, will succeed with better players and a one-year foundation for his program.
“It’s said that you are what your record says you are,” said Johnson, whose record is 11-30 as the Jets’ acting owner. “That’s not very impressive. But looking forward, I think this is going to be a good team. I have so much faith in Adam and Joe to put together a great future for us.”
He said the same thing about Maccagnan and former coach Todd Bowles — until he fired them. Now Johnson is going all-in with Gase, whose career record is 25-32.