NY Jets: 5 coaching candidates who can change the franchise’s culture

NY Jets (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /
NY Jets
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NY Jets

The NY Jets are in desperate need of a new direction and vision.

NY Jets owner Christopher Johnson infamously said these words when current head coach Adam Gase was hired back in 2019. “He’s coaching to where football is going.”

In an era where knee-jerk reactions, hot takes, and quick tweets don’t age well, the quote by Johnson is timeless as king of them all. The Jets in 2020 are a winless team, but more importantly, they are a franchise without innovation, direction, or identity.

It’s pretty much a given at this point that Adam Gase won’t be back in 2021. No matter how much Joe Douglas or ownership likes Gase, no coach can survive a 0-16 or 1-15 campaign. Even Adam Gase would fire himself in that scenario.

The focus of the Jets’ last head coaching search was who they ended up hiring. But lost in the current predicament and outcome is how they almost got it right.

Back in 2019, when Todd Bowles was fired, a myriad of different candidates emerged as his potential successor. Veteran head coaches like Mike McCarthy, Jim Harbaugh, and Jim Caldwell were considered but were never in the running to lead the NY Jets.

During the head coaching search in 2019, the Jets also requested an interview with Iowa State coach Matt Campbell, but he declined. Todd Monken and Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy were also in the running.

However, It was two unique options that emerged as legit candidates to lead Gang Green. Then, Baylor head coach Matt Rhule and Kliff Kingsbury, who had been fired by Texas Tech, and was all set to become the offensive coordinator at USC.

Kingsbury and Rhule were seen by many as being radical choices — two coaches with little to no NFL experience. The traditionalists were up in arms about the Jets’ considering Kingsbury and Rhule over proven commodities like Mike McCarthy.

But in hindsight, as it turns out, thinking outside the box would’ve been the right direction for the Jets to head into.

Unfortunately, the Jets took the route of going with what they thought was the safer choice. Adam Gase gave the Jets someone who had play-calling and head coaching experience at the NFL level. In reality, Rhule and Kingsbury embodied the “coaching to where football is going” aspect.

The Jets must shape their future by embracing it rather than seeking the past’s comfort in candidates like Jim Harbaugh or even a Bill O’Brien type. For the Jets to move forward, it’s going to require being ahead of the curve and some forward-thinking.

Here are five candidates, in no particular order, that I believe best represent that vision and can help change the NY Jets culture. Retreads need not apply.

Next: 5. Lincoln Riley

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5. The NY Jets could hire Lincoln Riley

This is a longshot.

The odds of the Jets convincing Lincoln Riley to leave his job at Oklahoma for the NFL are extremely slim, but if the plan is to look towards the future and think outside the box then Riley is exactly the type of young brilliant offensive mind that the Jets should target.

There is no salary cap on what you can offer a head coach to entice someone like Riley. The Jets would have to make him an offer he can’t refuse.

In this type of scenario, most pipedream enthusiasts would point towards Nick Saban or Dabo Sweeney instead. And understandably so. It wouldn’t hurt to make those calls.

The worst that can happen is that they say no, but if the Jets are looking for an innovative coach who has experience developing young quarterbacks for the NFL, Lincoln Riley is your guy.

During his time at OU, Riley has put together some of the nation’s most prolific offenses while tutoring quarterbacks like Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, and Jalen Hurts. Murray and Mayfield both ended up as No. 1 overall picks in the NFL.

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The Jets are poised to land the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and the likelihood has increased that the franchise will target a new franchise quarterback.

Whether it’s Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State’s Justin Fields, one way to give those quarterbacks a safe landing in the pros is to have someone like Lincoln Riley waiting for them with open arms.

More and more, NFL teams are looking towards the college ranks for inspiration. The success of Matt Rhule in Carolina and Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona has warmed franchises to the possibility that the college game has the NFL’s next great coaches on standby.

It wasn’t always this way. A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, having a great college offense meant very little to the pro game. The dual-threat QB’s and offenses were seen as being only fit for college football.

Coaches like Steve Spurrier and Chip Kelly failed in the NFL because the college game didn’t translate well. In 2020, NFL offenses have shifted towards resembling what we see on Saturdays in the fall and vice versa.

So much so that even longtime coaching veterans like Andy Reid borrow many concepts from college offenses.

The last time, the Jets searched for a head coach, the franchise wasn’t afraid to look towards the college ranks. It’s something that shouldn’t stop with just this candidate.

Next: 4. Matt Campbell

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4. The NY Jets could hire Matt Campbell

The Jets knocked on this door in their last search for a leader. It’s wise to see if Matt Campbell will answer this time. If the Jets are looking for someone who can change a losing culture, the right door to knock on is Matt Campbell’s.

Changing the culture and leading are two aspects that Matt Campbell has excelled at in college. At both Toledo and Iowa State, Campbell turned two afterthought programs into legitimate programs.

While at Toledo, Campbell was the offensive coordinator before taking over as head coach. He was only 32-years-old at the time. Campbell led Toledo to a 35-15 record with two bowl victories.

Matt Campbell was then hired to rebuild Iowa State. His first two seasons produced mixed results (11-14), but by year two, the Cyclones had already turned the corner to respectability in the Big-12. Iowa State is 28-18 since then.

What has stood out the most about Campbell at Iowa State is how competitive his teams have been against more traditionally superior college programs.

Iowa State has not only competed with teams like Oklahoma and TCU but has beaten them. On both occasions, when those programs were ranked top five in the nation.

As a result of his work, Matt Campbell is a two-time Big 12 Coach of the Year. Competing with and defeating top-tier college teams is clear evidence that Campbell has built a strong culture at Iowa State, where the impossible has become possible.

Lost in the leadership traits he has displayed is how brilliant of an offensive mind Campbell is. At Iowa State, his offenses have ranked highly as one of the most efficient in the nation. It’s happened with less talent than other universities have at their disposal.

Campbell runs a traditional spread offense, but one that is multiple in nature. His offenses will go three wide receivers on one series to two to three tight ends on the next.

Quarterbacks have the freedom to run check at the line of scrimmage based on the defensive look. It’s a staple in Campbell’s offense to train players to be aware of situational football.

No team in the NFL has more of a losing culture than the NY Jets do right now. Only a handful of candidates fit exactly what the Jets should be looking for to fix the franchise.

Matt Campbell is one of them. Will he open the door this time?

Next: 3. Arthur Smith

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3. The NY Jets could hire Arthur Smith

The secret is out on Arthur Smith. He is one of the rising names in the football community, and with good reason. The Tennessee Titans have a terrific coaching staff led by Mike Vrabel, and a lot of their recent success has come with Smith at the controls of their offense.

In the last couple of years, Smith has come out of nowhere. He started as an entry-level defensive assistant before transitioning to the offensive side with Tennessee.

From a quality control position to coaching tight ends, Smith was seemingly thrust into the offensive coordinator’s role in 2019 when Matt LaFleur took the Green Bay Packers head coaching job.

Since Arthur Smith has taken over, he has coordinated the highest-scoring Titans teams in nearly two decades. Smith’s offenses have ranked at or near the top in so many telling categories.

From yards per play to scoring to two-minute situations to red zone and third-down efficiency. These are the earmarkings of a great play-caller — the ability to call the right plays in the most crucial moments.

Close observers of the Titans have seen Arthur Smith consistently win the game of chess against his opponents. The Titans are multiple on offense, and they play smart situation-specific football.

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A hallmark of Bill Belichick led teams, something Mike Vrabel instills in his entire staff. There’s a reason why Vrabel confidently turned to Smith when LaFleur departed, even though Smith had no track record as a play-caller.

From a personality standpoint, Smith is known for being tough, but he has developed a strong rapport with his players and is known for being detail-oriented and well prepared for his opponents.

The biggest feather in Smith’s cap is the rise of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The former Dolphins quarterback has resurrected his career in Tennessee, thanks mostly to the coaching he has received from Smith.

It would be ironic if the Jets hired Arthur Smith to replace Adam Gase — the coach who got the most out of the same player that Gase failed with.

Next: 2. Eric Bieniemy

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2. The NY Jets could hire Eric Bieniemy

It seems like there is no coach in the NFL that has a bigger chip on his shoulder than Eric Bieniemy. For the last couple of years, he has been overlooked for head coaching opportunities.

Bieniemy has interviewed for seven different NFL teams but has yet to land a head coaching job. The Jets were one of those teams back in 2019.

Perhaps the Chiefs’ recent slaughter of the Jets a couple of weeks ago was a receipt for Gang Green not hiring Bieniemy when they had the chance.

Despite being one of the NFL’s best offensive minds, Eric Bieniemy has been a victim of his own success. Bieniemy is often overlooked in Kansas City and not given his just due.

To this day, when people talk about the defending Super Bowl championship offense of the Chiefs, people marvel at the otherworldly talents of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. And rightfully so. Mahomes is the ultimate odds-defying playmaker.

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Another person who receives a great deal of credit for the Cheifs explosive offense is Andy Reid. Undoubtedly Kansas City’s offense is Reid’s baby, and that’s why many people treat Bieniemy as someone who is just along for the ride.

Stepping out of Reid’s shadow will be a daunting task, but it’s also precisely why Bieniemy will come highly motivated in the first head-coaching job he lands.

Coming out from under the Andy Reid shadow or coaching tree is not a bad thing — it has produced in the past. See Super-Bowl-winning coaches like Doug Pederson and John Harbaugh or coaches like Ron Rivera and Sean McDermott.

Based on Eric Bieniemy’s rapport with his players, his background as a player, the tutelage he has received, and his success in the league’s top offense, Bieniemy is more than qualified to take the next step in his coaching journey.

And turning around the Jets will prove that he should’ve been a head coach all along.

Next: 1. Joe Brady

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1. The NY Jets could hire Joe Brady

It would take a lot of guts for the Jets to turn over the fortunes of their entire franchise to a 31-year old coach with no head coaching experience and only one season of NFL coordinating under his belt.

However, fortune favors the bold.

It might take that type of forward-thinking to set the Jets franchise on a path towards success — one that they almost took when they considered hiring Kingsbury or Rhule.

Varying circumstances led Gang Green away from Rhule and Kingsbury and into the more conventional hire of Adam Gase. Nearly two years have passed since the safer decision was made, and the franchise is worse off now than they were then.

The traditionalists will point to more experienced candidates like Josh McDaniels, Bill O’Brien, or Jim Harbaugh, and perhaps the argument for these types of coaches would make more sense than Joe Brady.

However, it’s time for the NY Jets to forge their own identity, think outside the box, and move forward in the direction of “where football is truly going.”

The question isn’t, will Joe Brady be a head coach? It’s simply a matter of when. The fast-rising assistant’s time is coming soon. Before long, he will be running a top college program or heading up an NFL team.

Brady’s ascent has come quickly. From being an offensive assistant under Sean Payton in New Orleans to winning a national championship with Joe Burrow at LSU as their passing game coordinator, Brady’s rise is similar to that of Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay.

McVay set a precedent for Brady to follow in 2017 by becoming the youngest head-coach (30) in modern NFL history.

The argument against Brady is that he’s only been an NFL coordinator for a small sample of games (9) and the Panthers are 3-6. The team record and even their current rankings don’t tell the whole story. Carolina is ranked eighth in total offense, sixth in passing, and 14th in rushing.

Despite not having their best offensive player in Christian McCaffrey for the majority of their games, anyone who has followed Carolina closely can see the level of innovation and creativity that Brady has already displayed with the Panthers.

The Panthers passing and rushing attack is multi-faceted — all designed to get playmakers in space. “Our system is going to be what our players do best” is a quote attributed to Brady often when he is asked about his offensive philosophy.

It sounds like an oversimplified answer and typical coach-speak, but the statement rings true when watching Brady’s multiple styled offenses in action.

Players at LSU like Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Justin Jefferson all raved about Brady’s offensive versatility and scheme. In the NFL, you see Brady’s concepts work with the likes of former Jets receiver Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, and even McCaffrey replacement, Mike Davis.

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Brady has a reputation for being calm and collective and for being able to communicate his ideas to players. It’s been a long time since the Jets have been ahead of the ingenuity and innovation curve.

Joe Brady represents that quality. He’s the coach of tomorrow’s football generation.

The lone hiccup in what may seem like a crazy idea to some is the potential influence of Matt Rhule, and whether or not he would sway Brady away from the Jets, based on what transpired between Rhule and the franchise back in 2019.

There were rumblings that Rhule wanted the Jets job badly, but the organization wanted to control and limit his overall vision. Will Matt Rhule get in the way if the Jets come calling for his hand-picked strategist on offense?

Adam Gase may not have been the answer to where football is going. But one thing is for certain. The Jets have been going nowhere for a long time now.

To quote and not paraphrase the great Wayne Gretzky, who once famously said, “a good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

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The same words are true for the Jets’ current brain trust. For the organization to be great, it needs to be ahead of everyone this time.