Playing GM of the Jets: Part 2- Looking at Bowles

In the first part of my look at the Jets I took a close look at Mike Maccagnan and in part two I will turn my attention to head coach Todd Bowles. Bowles’ team has struggled badly in 2016 and there is reason to believe that he could be in the hot seat come January. With the Jets expected to have a massive roster turnover in 2017  (that will be the focus of part three of this series), it is a fair question as to whether or not Bowles should be the guy to essentially coach a new team next season.

I always caution people to not get too wrapped up in the first year success of a rookie coach. Generally first year coaches take over teams with low expectations that catch many team off guard. Those teams have some new faces and the new staff is always going to be a question mark for offseason preparation for other teams.  Jets former coach Eric Mangini, dubbed “the Mangenius” in his rookie campaign, was the perfect example of this. Mangini shocked the NFL taking a team that was admittedly starting over to the playoffs in his first season back in 2006. He was fired by the end of the 2008 season, crashed and burned in Cleveland, and is out of the NFL right now.

Right now Bowles has more or less followed the same two year path as Mangini. Both had veteran QBs coming off surprise years that helped their success as rookie coaches and neither of those two quarterbacks could duplicate it in year two. Both had trouble adjusting to the second half of games which usually saw teams put the Jets in the rearview mirror.

There are probably two differences in the situations. One is that the Jets fans 2007 memory of Mangini was a big win at the end of the prior season to clinch a playoff spot, which always buys a coach some leeway the next year.  Bowles memory was blowing a game against the Bills that cost them the playoffs leaving a much more negative memory.

The bigger difference really is in personnel which Bowles has little control of. Mangini was able, whether he wanted to or not, to turn to a young QB with potential in Kellen Clemens which took some of the sting out of the year. He also had a number of talented young players that were developing well enough to make the future look bright. Bowles has had none of those advantages as the 2016 version of the team is a team of aging veterans who look to be closer to making retirement announcements than being part of a playoff team. In that respect this team has come across much more like the 2005 team which saw Herman Edwards angle his way out of his position as coach of the Jets.  That isn’t Bowles fault as the roster is assembled by the GM, but it is going to bring Bowles into more focus.

As a fan of the team who watches every Jets game it is hard to find many positives right now with Bowles. I used to criticize Rex Ryan for the issues with wasted time outs, bad penalties, and over-reliance on defense and/or field goals when situations really dictated four down drives and all of these issues exist with Bowles and in many cases are worse. Like Rex these seems to also be a complete disassociation with the offense, to the point where he basically stated he didn’t even talk with his former starter about a QB switch because he was “tied up”.

The one good thing is that these problems are fixable provided he is willing to accept that they are weaknesses. In public he has been unwilling to accept any responsibility but that doesn’t mean anything. Rex used to basically give the “its on me” line after every loss saying they all had to get better and they never did. We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors and if he is planning on working on these issues nobody should care about what he says to reporters right now.

The biggest negative lies in the performance of the defense. Bowles gained traction around the NFL as a secondary coach and really landed the job with the Jets because of his work in Arizona as a defensive coordinator. Arizona, under Bowles, became the land of reclamation projects and player development. I always said if you were considered a fading veteran there was no better place to go than Arizona to rehab your image around the league. Bowles was lining “washed up” players up like Karlos Dansby and Antonio Cromartie for one last payday. He was prolonging others careers. He also developed young players specifically in the secondary.

That is almost all missing with the Jets. There has been no rebirth for David Harris, Darrelle Revis or, the year prior, Calvin Pace. Neither Buster Skrine nor Marcus Gilchrist lived up their contracts let alone exceeded them. Calvin Pryor is still a work in progress. None of the young players have really broken through outside of Leonard Williams.

Most concerning is the performance of the defensive line, which was supposed to be a strength of the team. To say Muhammad Wilkerson has taken a step back would be an understatement. To say Sheldon Richardson has taken a leap back would be an even bigger understatement. Neither looks to be an impact player which has caused the Jets to go back into the trap of having to leave bad corners on islands so they can blitz to try to bring any pressure on the QB.

The D-line has probably caused Bowles the most trouble with the team and has also made Bowles look as if the job is too big for him. The Jets have three players for two positions and he has had no answers as to how to use them.  He’s tried putting all three on the line which was ineffective. He somehow decided that Richardson should play a standup linebacker which was even worse. Sunday the group got torn to shreds by Carlos Hyde of the 49ers in the run game, a facet of the defense that had been strong but crumbled in recent weeks.

Somewhere in all of this it became public that Bowles basically lost control of his defensive ends who had to be benched for a quarter after missing meetings, a problem with Wilkerson that apparently has gone on for over a year. Richardson, whose effort has always been questionable, has seemingly checked out under Bowles. He’s playing like someone who wants to force his way off the team. The coach has to find a way to reach his talent and it doesn’t seem to be working for Bowles.

Maybe some of this is on the talent that Maccagnan and Idzik before him assembled but he had to be on board with many of these moves and if it’s hard to give him an excuse for that. It makes those Arizona years look like it had more to do with the general manager finding the perfect fits than the coach making them look better than they were.

There are not many positives that I really see h the team right now. They clearly built up the Patriots game as their Super Bowl and they played well enough to win that game. They fell behind the hapless Browns and 49ers and came back to win those games rather than facing the ultimate embarrassment by losing to those teams. That at least shows that there is some pride left in the team and Sunday would have been a very easy day to pack it in and just give up. The fact they didn’t means that he hasn’t lost the team the way it looked against the Colts the Monday before.

My guess is that this week’s game is important for Bowles future. The team has been wiped out by two bad teams in primetime this year and they will get another feature game this Saturday against the Dolphins, who will be without their starting quarterback.  If the Jets show up in front of the home crowd and lose 30-6 it is hard to see Bowles solidifying his spot as head coach.  The last game of the year will be a graveyard game on New Year’s and he’ll need to have his guys show some effort there as well.

I’m probably more down on keeping Bowles than Maccagnan but it would not bother me if he did stay either. Given that Woody Johnson seems to be getting a position with the new president’s administration my guess is they will leave things be until they get the overall power structure sorted out in the future anyway.

Probably the biggest positive to keeping Bowles is that I think it officially ties he and Maccagnan together and makes 2017 an all or nothing proposition. That doesn’t mean they have to make the playoffs but they have to make a quantum leap in showing some type of on the field promise for the future.  I’d think that scenario is preferable to hiring a new coach who may be here for just one season.

That said I do think it’s important than the Jets owner or whomever is in charge sit down with the coach and the GM and make sure both are on the same page. The team really needs to reorganize their power structure so that the hierarchy is set that the coach answers to the GM rather than both being somewhat independent of each other. The two need to work together to make this happen and if they can’t do that than one needs to go. Whatever happened on the defensive line this year was clearly a lack of communication/vision on both their ends.  I think it’s also on the GM to hear Bowles’ self assessment of himself, the job, and the personnel on the team. If there is no sense that anything was wrong then Bowles needs to go.

The thing I don’t want to see is the Jets scapegoating assistant coaches after this season as a response to the bad season. If Bowles wants to make changes that’s fine, but those changes need to come from him not from above. If the Jets brass is not confident enough in his staff that means they are likely not confident in him. You can’t go into a season where you don’t fire a coach because it doesn’t seem fair but 6 games in let him go.  That just ruins everything for a team and you waste a year for no reason.  Either be all in for another season or don’t be in at all.

My expectation is that Bowles will be the head coach next year barring an epic three game collapse. If the Jets show no effort, particularly against Miami, I think the pressure will get to ownership to make a change.  Otherwise, it will be a fresh start for him given the expected roster turnover and he’ll get one last opportunity to prove he can be part of a solution. In part 3 we’ll look at the roster that Bowles has coached this season and the changes that need to happen.