FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Shortly before he was fired by the Miami Dolphins, Adam Gase requested a favor from one of his former pupils. He knew he would need some help convincing another team to take a chance on him so quickly after a disappointing three years as head coach of the Dolphins. Fortunately, a powerful voice was willing to intercede: Peyton Manning.
It has been five years since Manning and Gase first joined forces in Denver, setting records and bringing the Broncos to a Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium. But a phone call last week from Manning to the Jets’ chairman and chief executive, Christopher Johnson, went a long way for Gase, who will find himself back at MetLife in a different capacity this fall.
On Monday, at Gase’s introductory news conference as the New York Jets’ new head coach, Johnson signaled a shift in the organization’s philosophy, which has centered on defense for the past two decades. With Gase, the Jets have finally stepped in line with the league’s curve.
“To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky,” Johnson said, “he’s coaching to where football is going.”
There was some inherent awkwardness as Gase arrived in front of a packed auditorium filled with team executives, former players, and fans. As coach of the Dolphins, he went 5-1 against the Jets, including two wins this season. And since the deal was announced last week, reports have surfaced indicating that talks had broken down between the Jets and another top candidate, Matt Rhule, over staffing issues, although Johnson denied Monday that the team intended to dictate any staff hires.
But Gase, 40, underscored his reputation for fieriness and an inimitable work ethic by expressing how eager he was to get back to coaching despite only having been out of a job for a little more than a week.
“I was home for nine days, and I was good,” Gase joked.
He had a pedestrian 23-25 record with Miami, his first head coaching stint, and some players were critical of his style in exit interviews after the season. But the Jets were willing to look at his new situation as a fresh start in several ways.
“We have a young team,” general manager Mike Maccagnan said. “We have a lot of cap space. We have a lot of roster flexibility — we’re not burdened by a lot of big contracts and older players.”
These factors, Maccagnan continued, provide “an ability to shift and change a little bit.”
He added, “We can change the makeup of our team pretty quickly.”
The Jets have more than $100 million cap space, which Gase acknowledged made them an especially intriguing landing spot. He also said he liked the ability to stay in the AFC East and get another crack at dethroning the New England Patriots.
But Gase said the primary factor in his decision to sign with the team was Sam Darnold, the 21-year-old quarterback who will be entering his second season after showing plenty of promise as a rookie. Gase took Manning to new heights at the end of his career, and he guided Tim Tebow and Jay Cutler as well (he was a bit less successful developing Ryan Tannehill, his quarterback in Miami, though Tannehill missed the entire 2017 season and some of 2018 as well).
But he said he has never worked with a talent like Darnold.
“This is the first time I’ve been able to get with a guy this young, this early in his career,” Gase said. “He’s hungry for knowledge, he wants to be coached. And with a player that does have the physical traits, this is an exciting thing for me to go through.”
The Jets interviewed Gase early on, but then followed up with a second interview that included Darnold, who chimed in via FaceTime. Johnson had said he would look for a coach who had success grooming young quarterbacks; Gase’s résumé checked out.
Though he was hesitant to reveal many details about who he wants to fill his coaching staff, Gase said he was considering forgoing hiring a quarterback coach, so as not to fill Darnold’s head with too many voices besides that of his offensive coordinator and Gase himself. (Gase also called the plays in Miami.)
With Manning, Gase said, it took almost no time to develop a kinship.
“When we met each other, it was really, ‘Who’s going to be the first one to break, who will outwork who?’” Gase said. “He appreciates hard work, and who’s going to go nose-to-nose with him and mentally try to challenge each other. That was something I really enjoyed.”
The Jets are betting that their matchmaker game between Darnold and Gase produces something similar.
“You always want to be forward-looking,” Johnson said. “The game is changing. Adam has shown us that he is part of that change.”