FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – There may come a point in the future where Christopher Johnson will wonder what Adam Gase has done to justify the extraordinary faith the Jets CEO has put in his head coach, when he’ll demand proof of his offensive genius, and insist on actual results for his long-suffering fans.
Clearly, though, that day wasn’t Wednesday, when Johnson expressed his “full confidence” in his embattled leader and insisted he still considers Gase to be “a brilliant offensive mind”.
“I think that he has a lot more in him as a head coach than some of our fans are giving him credit for,” Johnson told reporters during Jets practice on Wednesday afternoon. “And I understand. They want to see success.
“I think that they will.”
Now, Johnson clearly knows Jets fans will be skeptical of that last part, and that unyielding support of Gase probably wasn’t what they wanted to hear. Surely, they won’t like knowing that Johnson won’t give his coach a playoffs-or-else mandate either, just to satisfy the hunger of a fan base that hasn’t seen its team in the playoffs in the last nine years.
He also knows that they’ll scoff at the idea of Gase as “brilliant” after watching the Jets’ offense finish dead last in the NFL last season, then show little improvement in what even Johnson called a “mess” of an opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon. Johnson sees the glass as mostly full, even if his fans see it as shattered. And he was defiant that Gase will eventually prove him right.
Of course, what else could he say, right? Johnson isn’t just the one who hired Gase back in 2019, but he’s the one who sided with him in a power struggle against the old Jets GM and then let him have a heavy hand in picking the new one. He showed extraordinary faith in a head coach, who didn’t exactly arrive with a glowing resume. And he gave him extraordinary power that he can’t take back now.
So expressing anything but faith in Gase right now would be impossible. And really, bailing on a head coach in his second season is a terrible move regardless. Building a program takes time, especially with a new GM who is basically starting over. The last-thing the Jets want to do is get back on the coaching carousel and get stuck in some knee-jerk-reaction rut.
But here’s the thing: As unshakeable as Johnson’s faith may be, it will only go so far. At some point – and some point soon, really – Gase is going to have to justify it. He’s going to have to prove his brilliance.
Otherwise Johnson will have no choice but to admit he hired the wrong man for the job.
For example, one big selling point for Gase is that Johnson is convinced he is absolutely the right man for Sam Darnold, the Jets’ franchise quarterback (and savior, really). He said “I think (Gase) can work with and develop quarterbacks. I do continue to think that he is a brilliant offensive mind, especially. He has my every confidence.”
OK, great. But Gase’s offense ranked 32nd in the NFL last season – and his early-season quarterback problems due to Darnold’s bout with mono can only excuse so much of that. And then on Sunday, the offense looked terrible again and Darnold looked as bad and jittery as he’s ever looked in the NFL – not a good sign for a healthy quarterback heading into his third year.
There are excuses, of course: The rebuilt offensive line wasn’t good, they don’t have a lot of weapons and injuries killed their ability to get their timing down this summer. But those can’t be used forever. Look around the NFL: There are coaches who aren’t considered quarterback gurus and offensive geniuses who seem to get more from less.
What have the Jets gotten from Gase? Well, Johnson does put a lot of stock in their 6-2 finish last season that salvaged some pride out of a 1-7 start.
“I’ve seen him interact with this team. I’ve seen him lead this team,” Johnson said. “Look back to last year. He took a team that did so poorly in the first half of the season and held them together. And they finished well.”
Yes they did, thanks mostly to Gregg Williams’ defense. It’s not fair to exclude Gase from that. He is the one holding the team together. But the momentum from that strong finish is obviously gone now. Besides, any positives from a mostly disappointing 7-9 season can only go so far.
The Jets need to see more, and their fans deserve more – probably more than Johnson said he needs to see. Johnson said he doesn’t need a playoff berth this season to justify his faith. He wouldn’t even say the Jets’ record needs to be an improvement on 7-9. Instead, he said “I’m looking for real progression over this season. And I’m confident that we’ll see that.”
What is “real progression”? About the closest Johnson came to defining his expectations was when he said “I think we have a roster we can win with – if we stay healthy.”
What he should be looking for, though, are signs that Darnold is heading towards being the elite quarterback they expect him to be, that Gase can navigate whatever issues they have and still design and lead an offense that can at least be ranked in the middle of the league. There should be wins, too. There should be meaningful games in December. And when people look at Darnold this season they shouldn’t see question marks. They should see a star.
That’s why Gase is here. That’s the championship formula in which the Jets have invested. Gase turns around the offense, turns Darnold into a Pro Bowler, while Williams works a miracle with the defense and everybody wins.
Johnson believes it will work, and that’s important. No sports franchise should be run by a mob mentality. No franchise wins by firing coaches every few years.
But there always comes a point where faith isn’t enough, and Gase gets closer with every game where his offense looks like a disaster. For now, he’s got the most important man in the Jets franchise in his corner.
It’s time for Gase to start paying him back for all his support.