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The Matt Rhule comment that highlights the New York Jets’ deepest issue

Adam Gase, Matt Rhule, Gregg Williams
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One Matt Rhule comment highlights the New York Jets’ most troubling issue as the team is currently structured in 2020.

It’s a battle. It’s a war. Apologies to our servicemen and women who actually experience real-life conflict, as your duties are greatly appreciated by Jets X-Factor, but football is a game that demands conflict-like preparations for success at every turn.

The players, who feel like they’ve been in a car accident every Monday morning, require teammates they can lean on. The coaches, who feel as though their brains are about to melt after every loss, require trust in others.

Dependability on the guy next to him is crucial, and the moment a chink in the trust armor is detected is the instant a football program travels down a one-way road en route to a cul-de-sac nicknamed “failure.”

A New York Jets’ mistake in January 2019 highlights this harsh football reality, vocalized by Matt Rhule.

Rhule interviewed with the Jets 21 months ago in the hopes of filling the team’s head coaching vacancy. Obviously, the Jets didn’t hire the now-Carolina Panthers head coach. It was a gut-punch for many fans, no doubt; but more interestingly, while Rhule has no chance to improve the Jets from within, one statement provided shortly after the Jets chose Adam Gase should serve as a culture-changing piece of advice.

“I don’t want to say anything about that job… at the end of the day, I’m never going to be in an arranged marriage,” Rhule told ESPN 1660 in Dallas in January 2019. “I’m never going to sub-contract out jobs for offense and defense. I’m always going to hire people I believe in … and are going to do things our way.”

It was widely speculated and even reported that the Jets had Gregg Williams in mind as defensive coordinator no matter the name at head coach. Gase and others within the organization denied those reports and claims.

No matter the level of truth, arranged marriages within the organization have hurt the Jets for years—the franchise’s greatest issue.

Adam Gase and Gregg Williams had never previously worked together. Those two personalities coming together naturally seems a bit far-fetched. Sure, Williams was free thanks to the Cleveland Browns opting to go in another direction, and Gase had only one shot at this head coaching thing previously, but these two often-stubborn football men contrast with the “match made in heaven” tag.

Late last week, Williams went out of his way to “excuse” his defense from poor defensive numbers.

“It’s not a very good number, and a lot of it’s not all defensively, but you know it’s not a very good number,” Williams said when asked about the Jets’ poor points-against number. “We’ve got to do a good job with that, and how you do that is make them kick more field goals. (We have) to do a better job in field position type things, and as you see, the scoring is up in the league, but it still makes me sick.”

Gase was none too pleased about the comments considering the perception that Williams took unnecessary shots at the offense.

“That’s not what we need,” Gase told the CBS crew prior to the Jets’ 24-0 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 6. “Everybody needs to shut up and play.”

Naturally, the slightest thing from that point forward will trigger a headline. So when any mundane thing, such as the two talking prior to a game occurs, the media world has itself a field day.

After the game, Gase explained that the two were discussing something the officials sprung on them. The Dolphins (or the NFL) didn’t like the way Connor McGovern holds the ball prior to the snap, forcing the officials to step in.

Truthfully, the truth doesn’t matter. Anything that adds to the problem is a problem itself, and the perception of an arranged marriage and/or discord hurts the program.

So does a one-dimensional head coach.

It’s rare to catch Gase talking about defense. The offensive-minded coach is the offensive play-caller and boss, while Williams does the same on defense. Personnel and in-game decisions are Williams’s to make. Anything short of calling a timeout or throwing the challenge flag, the guy who once said, “Put your testicles in the C-gap,” is the Jets’ defensive head coach.

Football just doesn’t work that way.

Look around at the recent champs, the organizations that have done it the right way as of late. There’s Bill Belichick, a defensive guy, of course, but one who dishes the play-calling duties to another man. There’s Pete Carroll, another former Jets defensive mind who, much like Belichick, doesn’t call the plays.

These two represent the very definition of “head football coach.”

John Harbaugh, a former special teams coordinator, also fits the top-of-the-hierarchy role in Baltimore. Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh is similar in that regard. Also fitting the bill was former New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher and Indianapolis Colts head man Tony Dungy.

Those seven game-manager-type head coaches have combined to win 13 of that last 19 Super Bowls. The others, such as Jon Gruden, Sean Payton, Mike McCarthy, Gary Kubiak, Doug Pederson and Andy Reid, either called plays or dabbled in calling plays.

Although important, the play-calling aspect isn’t the issue of the moment. Instead, it further illustrates the problem that is not having that clear guy at the top of the food chain.

Essentially, the Jets currently employ two head coaches, one for each unit.

While Reid calls Kansas City’s offensive plays, there’s no question he’s the clear guy at the top. Players and coaches know where to go whenever something of importance needs attention. Everything on paper suggests Gase is the guy at the top. Does paper translate into reality in this situation?

A non-head coach hired by ownership—even with co-signed consent from the head coach—is empowered to a degree that falls outside of the head coach’s circle. Certain backchannels are created that don’t go through the head coach, which usually brings disastrous results.

New York Jets, Jets X-Factor

Not only does it wreak havoc in-house, but it also discourages other top-notch candidates from wanting the Jets as their next employer. Word travels quickly in this league, and that Rhule statement is as negative as it gets.

Oh yeah, let’s not overlook the other big piece of this concern. Transitioning from Leon Hess to Woody Johnson brought the organization to a brand-new era. Bill Parcells’s complete rebuild of the program allowed the organization to make the playoffs seven times over 14 seasons beginning in 1997, and he did it as the sole guy at the top.

Since Woody, the general manager and head coach both report to ownership, creating the reality or perception of vast concerns in many areas.

It’s not as though this model can’t work; it has prior and continues to do so for many organizations. It’s that it’s unnecessary in many regards. Worst of all, it creates the illusion of confusion.

Who’s the boss in this personnel situation? How about this other situation in which a player is unhappy about his playing time defensively yet reaches out to the offensive-minded head coach? While the head coach could be telling ownership one thing, the general manager could be on a completely different page.

It first started with Herm Edwards and Terry Bradway, then transitioned into Eric Mangini and Mike Tannenbaum, who struck gold when evaluating talent. Ultimately, bad timing and arranged marriages failed with the likes of Rex Ryan, John Idzik, Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan coming and going. Now, although the story is told in a way that envisions Joe Douglas and Adam Gase as the best of friends, these two didn’t enter the organization on the same terms or with the same plans.

A battle requires a clear hierarchy on each side. A country demands a clear leader in the form of a president (a man or woman representing the people). A football team needs a self-aware, communicating-rich dictator. Matt Rhule correctly asked the Carolina Panthers to be the dictator of his coaching staff—something that’s currently working in his favor.

Anything short of that for a head football coach usually results in disaster for a program.

In the New York Jets’ world, the truth of January 2019 is nearly irrelevant. Perception and results are what matters, and it’s that outcome that greatly impacts the organization as a whole moving forward.

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