INDIANAPOLIS - It's hard to imagine a worse spot for Todd Bowles. The glow of his first-year success evaporated in last year's 5-11 disaster. His job could be on the line this season, for real, with no promises from his owner of the future. His team has no quarterback. It's shedding many of its past leaders.
In other words, Bowles might very well be in a win-now position as his team is in the midst of a total rebuild.
Unfair? Sure. Impossible? So it seems. How is the third-year coach supposed to pull off that trick, to win with what will surely be a young and untested roster and a new quarterback who almost certainly will not be one of the NFL's "elite"?
Well, for one thing, Bowles isn't interested in any rebuilding. He's also not worried about what lies ahead.
"I'm not afraid of the unknown," Bowles said. "We don't have the names that we had in the past, but that doesn't mean that we won't have the players."
Brave talk, but he's not wrong about that. In fact it can be argued that the Jets haven't lost a lot with their decisions to release players like cornerback Darrelle Revis, tackles Ryan Clady and Breno Giacomini, and center Nick Mangold. Yes, their departures created big holes that need to be filled, but due to injuries, age and performance, none of them were big contributors last year.
The Jets, out of necessity, needed to get younger and they needed to clear lots of cap space to address their many needs. They were fooled by their 10-6 success in 2015 that they were farther along than they really were, but 5-11 last season was a cold splash of reality. They had to start over, almost completely.
No, that's not ideal for a coach in win-now mode. But Bowles refuses to think like that. To him, winning now is really the only way.
"We're always trying to win," he said. "We don't do anything with that (rebuilding) mindset. You rebuild with people and names, but you don't rebuild with trying to win or not win. We're trying to win all the time."
Bowles pointed out that "You don't have an age limit on who plays. You want to play good football players." In other words, a youth movement doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. He said it's tough to let important players go. And he knows the Jets may turn out to be young and possibly inexperienced at many key positions -- possibly even at quarterback.
But that's not a doomsday scenario to Bowles. He prefers to see it as a challenge.
"As a coach it's going to be hard because you always have to replace some veteran players, whether they're names or not names," he said. "That's tough because you get to know them and spend time with them every day. The young players I don't worry about because you have to teach. You teach football and whether they're older or younger you treat them the same. You teach football.
"And that part of it I'm excited about. I'm not afraid of the unknown. I feel no differently the day I took the job than I do now. I have a lot of faith whether our older guys stay or whether we have some younger guys that come in and play. It's up to us to teach them as coaches. And we'll do that."
Can he really do that -- balance teaching a roster of new and young players with new coaches and turn it into an overnight success? It's hard to imagine that happening -- though the picture will become much clearer once their 2017 quarterback is set. There are still a lot of unknowns -- including whether the Jets will be keeping players like receiver Brandon Marshall and linebacker David Harris.
But for whatever it's worth, Bowles is almost embracing the instability. He's not immune to the reality that another miserable season will cost him his job. He knows that the Jets need to show significant signs of progress -- and obvious ones in terms of actual wins.
And he has to know that on the outside it all seems unrealistic. Yet he won't back down. Winning is exactly what he plans to do.
"As a football coach you get energized every year because you're always trying to get to the Super Bowl and win," he said. "There is no rebuilding. There's always trying to win. The younger players or older players, I see it as always trying to win and always trying to get better. That's how I coach and that's how it's going to be every day, whether it's street ball or whether it's professional football. I'm trying to win."