Hotseat or Hotshot? Adam Gase has a season to save his coaching career
January 11th 2019, the New York Jets puzzled many in the football world by hiring recently fired Miami Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase to be their new Head Coach. Quarterback Sam Darnold was coming off a promising rookie season that was full of the ups and downs normally experienced by rookie passers and securing the right coach to marshal him through the next few seasons of development was a must for the Jets.
After the first season of Gase’s leadership the jury is well and truly out on the Jets Head Coach. There are mitigating factors, including Darnold missing three games with a bout of Mononucleosis that affected the rest of his season. Darnold made slight improvements in most stats (completion %, TD:INT ratio, yards, touchdowns) but he didn’t take the big leap many expected.
It should not be forgotten that Darnold is young for a player heading in to his third season. Drafted at the tender age of 20 (Baker Mayfield another quarterback taken in his draft class was 22 when drafted) Darnold is likely to take longer to develop into the player many believe he can be. Fans across the league have become accustomed to quick success from rookie passers but for someone as young as Darnold, time is going to be key.
Author’s note: the stats in this article are based only upon games in which the teams starting quarterback was under center. This has been done due to the conclusion being formed around the relationship between Gase and current starting quarterback Sam Darnold. Stats with backup quarterbacks who are often poor scheme fits that run slimmed down playbooks have the potential to skew the outcome.
Gase and Manning - A Perfect Storm
Despite every major news outlet in the NFL world trying to have you believe that the trend of hiring bright young offensive minded head coaches started with the Rams hiring Sean McVay, it’s a strategy that teams have been pursuing since the dawn of football time. Gase built his coaching name as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. With a likely first ballot Hall of Fame quaterback in Peyton Manning under center, the Gase coordinated offense was a level above the season before. Manning would go on to set the NFL record for regular season passing touchdowns with 55 as the Broncos’ led the NFL in offensive efficiency, scoring points on half their offensive drives, the best drive success rate in the NFL.
Whilst the 2013 season didn’t end in the way Broncos fans hoped (they were blown out by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl), the team did achieve redemption in 2014 with a Lombardi win. In the 2014 season, Gase masterminded an offense that was in the top five for efficiency, even as Manning was losing his battle with father time. For a two year period, Gase and Manning ran the most efficient offense in the league. It drove the Broncos to two Super Bowl appearances and a Lombardi Trophy. The legend of Gase was born.
Accept No Imitations...
With Manning retired, Gase followed John Fox to Chicago for a season. The combination of Gase and Cutler couldn’t recreate the brilliance of Gase’s partnership with Manning in Denver. In spite of Cutler posting a respectable completion percentage over expected, the offense posted middle of the pack numbers for efficiency. Only a fool would try to compare the ability of Manning to that of Cutler and as such the middle of the pack finish wasn’t unexpected. It was however, a pretty good illustration of what was to come.
On the back of the 2015 season Gase was hired as the Head Coach of the Miami Dolphins. The starting quarterback in Gase’s first season was Ryan Tannehill, who was entering his fifth season in the NFL. In that first season with Gase, Ryan Tannehill posted a completion percentage over expected of +5.3% good for second in the NFL.
However the wider offense was disappointing, ranking in the lower half of the league for efficiency. The coach who was hired for his offensive prowess saw his quarterback post a gaudy CPOE number second only to Manning’s record breaking 2013 season as an Adam Gase quarterback but couldn’t turn it into an efficient offense.
Tannehill tore his ACL prior to the 2017 season and Gase brought his former quarterback Jay Cutler out of an announcing booth to fill in. It is tough to totally judge a coach, especially an offensive one who loses his starting quarterback. Despite the season being a write off the trend of worsening efficiency figures continued as an Gase’s offense was below zero for the first time in his coordinator/head coaching career. Things didn’t improve when Tannehill returned in 2018, and Gase was let go by the Dolphins. Despite a five year trend of worsening efficiency on the offensive side of the ball the Jets hired Gase.
New York, New Job, New Trend?
The Jets hire of Gase was far from convincing even before a pass was thrown. The efficiency of his offenses had been steadily falling for five seasons, as had the performances of his starting quarterbacks in his last four. Most watching the league had developed a healthy level of scepticism over whether Gase could run a healthy offense without a Hall of Fame quarterback under center.
The soap opera that is the New York Jets, a hellish opening months schedule and a starting quarterback affected by Mono cloud a season in which the Jets offense was a net detractor from the team, but was better (when Sam Darnold was under center) than the output in Miami over the previous two seasons.
Quarterback Sam Darnold is still in his development phase. It’ll never be truly known how badly the bout of Mono affected him over the 2019 season but it is likely to be more substantial than most pundits and fans believe. Darnold has the highest upside of any quarterback Gase has coached since Peyton Manning. Darnold can make throws that neither Tannehill or Cutler were capable of making during their periods under the current Jets Head Coach. It is because of this upside that Gase is on the hot seat this season in New York.
Current Jets general manager Joe Douglas didn’t hire Gase so a termination of the relationship after two seasons wouldn’t land at his feet. With the investment in offensive linemen this past offseason and the egregiously large contract handed to running back Le’Veon Bell in 2018, the offense needs to make forward progress in 2020.
Anything less than a net contribution in efficiency will have to be seen as failure and will probably lead to the Jets looking for a new Head Coach in January, rather than playing games. Darnold’s rookie contract won’t last forever and the team has a big decision coming up at the end of this season. However at 23 years old, with stability in his offensive lead, don’t be surprised if Darnold takes a leap forward and maybe Gase and the Jets surprise a few people.
Head of Analytics
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