Patience is everything when it comes to the New York Jets becoming contenders again. Especially when it comes to being patient with head coach Todd Bowles as he further develops this team.
I don’t need to remind anyone that the fan base of the New York Jets is anxious for a winner. We’re tired of seeing the New England Patriots win Super Bowls. We want one too, and we want one sooner than later. But unfortunately, the reality in 2017 is that we can expect a similar story. Briefly stated, the Jets always struggle, while the Patriots either contend or win another Super Bowl. No wonder why we’re anxious!
At the same time, an anxious fan base searches for every possible reason to explain why its favorite team is a snake-bitten organization, placing blame in all directions. Some of the criticism begins at the top with owner Woody Johnson, “sell the team,” “he doesn’t know anything about football.”
Others are quick to fault general manager Mike Maccagnan, claiming he’s no better than his predecessor, John Idzik, mastermind of the infamous “Idzik 12.” Of course, no discussion about this upcoming season can ignore the quarterback “controversy.” Christian Hackenberg, Bryce Petty, or Josh McCown?
Regardless who starts, will it even matter? Just so many question marks. But admittedly I’m a little surprised that head coach Todd Bowles has received so much criticism. He’s only been a head coach in the NFL for just two years. He also inherited an aging roster and a bleak quarterback situation.
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Although asking for patience from an anxious fan base desperate for success may be too much, I’ll still go ahead and suggest that there has been a rush to judgment of Bowles and people need to relax while he gains the experience that is critical for eventual head coaching success.
This raises an important question. If prior experience as a head coach is critical, then why does Woody keep hiring inexperienced people? Keep in mind that Bowles is the fourth rookie head coach in a row hired by Johnson. Herm Edwards, Eric Mangini, and Rex Ryan preceded Bowles—all were distinguished assistant coaches but brought with them zero prior head coaching experience. (The one slight exception is Bowles. As an interim head coach in 2011, he led Miami to two wins, and one loss, stepping in when Tony Sparano was fired).
Your guess is as good as mine why Woody prefers rookie head coaches, but one can quickly see the logical conclusion of the argument; that is, if the owner of the football team keeps hiring rookie head coaches, then the fans should expect growing pains. It’s that simple. With Bowles, the growing pains are evident, but all head coaches have to start somewhere.
News flash, head coaches—just like players (especially quarterbacks)—need time to develop. Some of us are willing to watch Hackenberg struggle at the NFL level just to “see what he can do.” This despite the fact that many scouts don’t believe he is ready. Nor has he distinguished himself in any of the preseason games he’s played so far (which isn’t many). With Bowles, however, there seems to be a tighter window to prove he can succeed as an NFL head coach.
There are many examples of head coaches who’ve struggled before finding eventual success, and I’ll discuss just one here. Some of you may recall that Sean Payton was nearly fired as an assistant coach before becoming head coach of the New Orleans Saints. In 2002, Payton was the offensive coordinator for the New York Giants. I went back and did a little research; Payton at the time was once referred to as a “pariah” among offensive coaches, a man who had suffered the ignominy of having his play-calling duties stripped.
The Giants head coach at the time, Jim Fassel, became the de facto offensive coordinator. The Giants ended up making the NFL playoffs that year, but apparently, Payton was considered person non grata in the Giants organization for a while. Yet Payton overcame what could have been a serious stumbling block to his blooming NFL coaching career. We know what happens next. He’s hired by New Orleans and wins a Super Bowl. But that success wasn’t overnight.
It still took Payton four years to win the ultimate prize. Similar to Bowles, Payton inherited a really bad team. The year before he was named head coach (2005), the Saints were 3-13. Payton immediately turned things around. In 2006, the Saints won 10 games, losing to the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship game. Seemingly at that time, the sky was the limit, and Payton could do no wrong. But the following year the Saints were disappointing, failing to build on the prior year’s success, missing the playoffs with a 7-9 record. Another year of mediocrity followed at 8-8.
Some could argue that two years of not making the playoffs could have been grounds for dismissal. But fortunately for the Saints and the city of New Orleans, the owner at the time demonstrated patience and the rewards came when the Saints upset Peyton Manning’s Colts in the 2010 Super Bowl.
Bowles also inherited a bad team, 4-12 to be exact. Like Payton, Bowles won exactly 10 games his first year but was one-quarter shy—and three poorly thrown Ryan Fitzpatrick INTs—from going to the playoffs. We’ll never know how far the Jets would have gone in the playoffs but that’s not the point. What’s important is that Bowles, in just one season, also turned the Jets around from a losing to a winning team so he is capable of success in the NFL.
It is also important to stress that Payton’s first year coincided with the Saints signing Drew Brees to a free agent contract. Imagine if Bowles had a quarterback of that caliber in his first and second years? Payton had his Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback gift-wrapped and waiting for him. That’s some tandem, Payton-Brees, reminds me of another one somewhere north of New York, and currently has five Super Bowl rings. Bill Belichick was a distinguished defensive coordinator before he struggled as a head coach. Not surprisingly, he became a “genius” the same year that future Pro Football Hall of Famer, Tom Brady, fell into his lap. Hmmmm….see a pattern?
Before anyone freaks out, some clarity is needed. I’m not suggesting Bowles should be given the benefit of the doubt simply because he is growing as a head coach, or, that he will follow the same trajectory as Payton, and thus we can expect a Super Bowl in the near future. No, Bowles still has to prove that he can win consistently in the NFL. His first year was basically a pass, and last year was a debacle. Again, ups and downs. He still needs to show that he can get the Jets on a path to long-term success. They also need a quarterback, and perhaps either Hackenberg or Petty can show real signs of progress this year. But the bottom line is Jets fans, a) we have to patient, and b) it’s probably going to be a rocky road ahead, but we have seen examples in the past where patience is rewarded.