This season was never really about winning for Todd Bowles, it was about proving he was the right guy to lead this young team out of the abyss. That was how the Jets were going to judge him when they decided about his future.
And there should be no doubt now that Bowles is the right man for the Jets job.
He's proven that by a remarkable start this season, taking a team that so many thought wasn't capable of more than two or three wins, and leading it to a surprising 4-5 record. Even more importantly, he's nurtured them into a cohesive, fun, energetic team that truly believes it can win any game it plays, and has been in nearly every one.
The players love playing for him. They've responded to him. The dark cloud that famously hovered over the team during last year's miserable season has been replaced by bright sun.
That's why the Jets absolutely should bring Bowles back for the 2018 season, and they should say so now to remove any doubt. And they really should extend his contract beyond that too, so he's around even longer than that.
"I think very highly of Todd," Jets GM Mike Maccagnan said this week. "I think he has done an excellent job this year. Like everybody in their roles respectively, you grow and develop on the job. I think the one thing that Todd has done, especially this year, is we transitioned the roster from some of the older players that we have moved on from that were long time Jets, and that was a difficult thing. But, really it started in the offseason and watching Todd and the coaching staff do a very good job with a lot of the players on our team and the chemistry.
"You feel it growing and building and it really carried over into the season."
Now, Bowles' future is not in Maccagnan's hands. With the Jets, the GM and head coach are on equal footing and both report to team president Neil Glat. That means that Glat, and owners Chris and Woody Johnson, will be the ones who eventually decide Bowles' fate and whether to extend his contract beyond 2018.
But Maccagnan's words will surely carry some weight. And if the bosses are listening, so far they have to like what they hear.
"You never know until the start of the season how you are going to be, but I think Todd has done a lot of good things," Maccagnan said. "Not only (from) a leadership standpoint of our defense in terms of what they're doing, (but) then also I think Todd as a head coach has (provided) more input on other sides of the ball, too. I think Todd has a bright future and I really enjoy working with him and I'm excited about where things go going forward."
Currently, Bowles is in Year 3 of the four-year, $16 million contract he signed in 2015. The Jets could conceivably let him coach next season without a contract extension and decide his fate then. But that would make no sense for a young, growing, up-and-coming team looking to rally around their coach as their program continues to build.
They genuinely seem to like Bowles. And in case you missed the dancing and all the memes that spawned, these Jets genuinely seem to be having a good time, too. And last Thursday night, in their big win over the Buffalo Bills, the sparse crowd at the Meadowlands even came alive. It seems like the Jets fans, every cautious, are starting to believe in this young group too.
And the Maccagnan-Bowles partnership sure seems to be working. There were times, this offseason, as Maccagnan purged veterans from the roster when it wasn't clear that he and Bowles were on the same page. Bowles clearly wasn't thrilled at all of the moves. He seemed particularly upset when the Jets abruptly cut linebacker David Harris.
But every move Maccagnan made has worked, and Bowles can clearly see that. There is no divide between the two that anyone can see.
"I really enjoy Todd and working with Todd," Maccagnan said. "We have a very good working relationship."
"It's been great," Bowles added. "We get along great. We talk about everything. We see things the same way for the most part. I have no complaints at all. We're married, but we're not married."
And if the marriage is working and everyone is happy, there' s no need for a divorce, no matter what happens the rest of this season. There is no guarantee the Jets' longshot hopes for a playoff berth will pay off. With their schedule and their young roster, it wouldn't be a shock if things fall apart in the second half.
But the seeds have been sown for a wonderful future. Maccagnan deserves credit for making all the right moves in the offseason, and Bowles deserves credit for piecing everything together once the season began. So why wait? The No. 1 item on the Jets' agenda this offseason should be to extend Bowles' contract, to leave no doubt that he's the coach that will lead them in the future.
He's already proven he deserves that, no matter what happens the rest of the way.