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Character games: The New York Jets are Joe Douglas’ team

Christopher Johnson, Joe Douglas
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Jets are officially Joe Douglas’s team now, as his character-driven team-building model intensely pushes forward.

Joe Douglas did his duty Tuesday afternoon. Meeting with the media, courtesy of Zoom, the New York Jets general manager laid down a familiar vision for his football program.

Character. Culture. Character and more character. Did I happen to mention character?

With the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, a boatload of draft picks at his disposal, plenty of cap space and an exciting vacancy at the head-coaching position, the organization’s football program is now Douglas’s to lead.

No more mention of Adam Gase. No more tank talk. No more 0-16 discussion that forces Connor McGovern to challenge an entire fanbase. Douglas is the chess master with a clean board and ample time, and his first move may turn out to be the most impactful.

Choosing the team’s next head coach is first on the docket. Naturally, the man’s character will determine a lot during the process.

“I think first and foremost we’re looking for a great partner,” Douglas said Tuesday afternoon. “I think we have a lot of good people in this building. I think we’re looking for a person with great character and integrity. I think we’re looking for a person that’s going to have outstanding vision of what they want the identity of this team to be moving forward, and then what’s the detailed plan on how they want to achieve this identity.”

Douglas added that he’s looking for “someone that’s a great communicator, a great manager.”

Just a day prior, Chairman Christopher Johnson made it clear that he’s looking for the bizarro-Gase. Johnson couldn’t have been more complimentary of Gase on his way out, and of course he didn’t outright say the term “bizarro-Gase.” But from a general point of view, the Jets are seeking a leader of men who’ll control all aspects of the football team.

The CEO-type coach idea continues to surface. While Johnson admitted the term isn’t his favorite, it does do its job from a descriptive standpoint.

“I don’t much like the term CEO either, but it does describe what we’re looking for,” Johnson said on Monday. “We want a head coach that coaches the entire team, end-to-end, and his staff. You don’t have to be offensive, you don’t have to be defensive, this is a coach for the entire team and that’s very important to us looking forward.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand what’s transpired over the last two years. Gase ran the offense, while Gregg Williams did his thing on the other side of the ball. In essence, there were two head coaches in Florham Park, NJ—a mistake the Jets aren’t looking to make again any time soon. A mistake they fell into when thinking about young Sam Darnold at the conclusion of the 2018 season.

Johnson, president Hymie Elhai and Douglas, the man who’ll be leaned on throughout the process, have already begun the process by requesting interviews with several candidates.

“We’ve already put in requests for some of our candidates, and I expect we’re going to start those interviews very shortly,” Johnson added. “We’re going to be doing those initially remotely, and because they’re remote, I’m hoping we can go through them relatively quickly, and I’m looking forward to that. I think that this could take a few weeks. It could be quite quick, (and) it is a little hard to tell at this point.”

So far the Jets have been rabid. They’ve requested permission to interview Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley and Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. They even reached out to defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, whom the Giants quickly locked up to an extension.

Denzel Mims, Joe Douglas, Mekhi Becton
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

That’s just the at the professional level. The college landscape will bring plenty of names to the table as well—something the Jets’ decision-makers planned all along.

“We’re going to cast a very wide net,” Douglas said about the search. “We’re not going to look at just offense, just defense, special teams—we’re going to look at everybody. It’s important that we find a person with high integrity and outstanding leadership skills and communication skills.”

More character games.

Hey, it’s nothing new around these parts. The moment Douglas was brought in by the organization, he spoke and carried himself differently than those before him. On day No. 1, he mentioned how critical it was to shore up the offensive and defensive line. On day No. 1, he also hammered the culture point home.

Eyes roll whenever a transitioning franchise discusses culture. It’s a “been there, done that” sort of idea, a “who cares about culture when talent is needed” sort of eye roll. And while it’s true that character means very little if the talent isn’t present, talent alone gets you nowhere in this league.

Douglas’s goal is the whole shebang, not a one or two-time playoff appearance-type general manager. He signed a six-year contract to take on an undertaking over a decade in the works. Since the once-great roster that produced two AFC championship game appearances started crumbling, the Jets have drafted terribly.

In his first crack, Douglas not only drafted talent, but he also drafted with a trench-first and character-driven vision that’ll surely continue this offseason.

The question from fans remains firm: “Why would it be any different this time around?” The answer is simple: Douglas has the personnel resume and references to back up his past performance. Two Super Bowls in Baltimore and one in Philadelphia, and Douglas “taking the lead” on the coaching search should help ease the concerns.

“Let me start with why they should have confidence that we’ll get it right,” Johnson said. “In this room, we’re going to have me, we’re going to have Hymie (Elhai), who has been part of the Jets for 20 years, who was a big part of the search for Joe (Douglas), and he’s a highly-trusted adviser to both me and Joe. We also have Joe, and this is important: Joe has a lot of background, he has a lot of time in this league, he’s well respected and make no mistake, he’s going to be taking lead on this. While this is a collaborative effort, his opinion will be taken most seriously. And I think that the fans can feel safe knowing that we’re going to get this right.”

Ownership is always involved in a head-coaching hire. That’s professional sports. As long as the head of the franchise’s specific sports operations is the top dog at the table, all is well. And that’s what seems to be happening with the Jets with Douglas.

New York Jets, Jets X-Factor

Even the hierarchical setup is suddenly in question with Johnson saying that a “change in structure is under consideration.” The reporting structure that has both the head coach and general manager both reporting to ownership hasn’t exactly worked wonders for the Jets since Bill Parcells bolted town. It’s also led to “timetable” issues in how and when each position has been hired. The 2015 restart saw two near-strangers, Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles, pair up to run the show.

Not this time. Not with this new regime. Not with Joe Douglas and Christopher Johnson.

Next up is finding a head coach who checks the boxes highly sought-after. And if you thought a 2-14 season will change Douglas’s character-driven tune, guess again.

“I’m a ‘we, not me’ guy, and I think there are a lot of good people that are going to help in this process,” Douglas added. “I’m looking forward to getting in with Christopher and talking about these candidates, diving into their character profiles, diving into their football background and really working together to find the right type of person that can lead this franchise, hopefully for many, many years.”

Two wins, no Trevor Lawrence and a team everybody always loves to rag on leads the hater parade. Yet it’s also a team that continued to do the right thing in the face of overwhelming tank pressure. Never once showing a sign of give-up or self-destruction while playing for a coach on his way out is exactly the kind of evidence needed to understand Joe Douglas’s vision.

The character games continue in Florham Park, NJ, which means the New York Jets are Joe Douglas’s team and are officially on the right track.

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