The players in the Jets' locker room seemed to have a universal like and respect for Todd Bowles and believed in what he was doing.
The same was apparently not true about offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.
There was a growing frustration with Bates' scheme and his play-calling among the Jets' offensive players, according to multiple NFL sources -- a frustration significant enough that the concerns were brought to the Jets' front office. It wasn't clear if the players reached out themselves, or word went through their agents. But one source made it clear that "Mike (Maccagnan, the Jets GM) knew all about it."
Veteran receiver Jermaine Kearse put a voice to some of those complaints on Monday when he told reporters he wasn't happy with the way Bates used him this season. Kearse, who had just 37 catches for 371 yards, said he felt like Bates put him on the "back burner". He also said he "wasn't a match" for what Bates wanted to do.
"I felt that I wasn't a part of it as much," Kearse said. "I felt I got put on the back burner a little bit, which can happen. For me coming off my best year statistically the year before, I had some very high expectations. It was just really frustrating and unfortunate that things didn't go the way I expected, which happens sometimes.
"Do I think (Bates' system) played a role? Yes."
But the puzzling way Kearse, a free agent-to-be who had 65 catches for 810 yards and five touchdowns one year earlier, was used was just one of the issues with Bates. One player had a problem with what he considered an offense that "lacked creativity" and was far too conservative. That was a regular criticism of Bates' scheme, especially early in the season when he appeared reluctant to let young quarterback Sam Darnold throw downfield.
Kearse had actually hinted at the issues back in November. When he was asked back then if the Jets' offense needed to be more creative, he said "I'd rather just pass on that question. Sorry." And when he was asked about the team's confidence level in Bates, he called that a "tough-ass question" and declined to answer that, too.
"Some things were just out of control," Kearse told reporters on Monday. "Things changed from the year before to now. It's definitely frustrating. I'm not going to sit here and put all blame on him. I hold myself accountable. I'm out there on the field. It weighs on me too. It wasn't a match."
One NFL agent who represents at least one offensive player scheduled to be a free agent said even if the Jets had kept Bowles they would've had to fire Bates if they wanted to have a shot at any of the offensive players in free agency that they so desperately need.
This was the second straight season that Bowles had issues with his offensive coordinator. His previous coordinator, John Morton, lasted only one season and was fired after what a source said were multiple clashes with other assistants and players on the team. One former player said at the time that many offensive players had expressed private frustrations with Morton's play-calling and scheme.
The offensive coordinator problems highlighted one of the biggest problems of the Bowles era - his inability to assemble a top staff. Neither Morton nor Bates were his top choices to be his offensive coordinator, a team source said. His tenuous job security and the lack of talent on the roster made it difficult for Bowles to recruit the coaches he wanted.
In Bates' one year as offensive coordinator, the Jets offense wasn't good. It ranked 29th in the NFL, averaging 299.2 yards per game, 25th in passing (197.8) and 26th in rushing (101.4). The Jets averaged only 20.8 points per game, which was 23rd in the league.
In fairness to the 42-year-old Bates, though, the Jets weren't overflowing with offensive talent. His best receiver, Quincy Enunwa, battled injuries all season. Kearse, no matter what he thought of his role, struggled for most of the year. He lost both his top running backs to injuries - Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell - and before that Elijah McGuire had missed half the season.
By the end of the season, Bates was working with a patchwork offensive line, a third-string running back, and a kick returner (Andre Roberts) as one of his primary receivers. And of course he was playing with a rookie quarterback for the entire year.
That, though, was actually Bates' greatest success. Darnold had an up and down rookie season, completing 57.7 percent of his passes for 2,865 yards in 13 games, with 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. But under Bates' direction, Darnold finished strong, completing 64 percent of his passes over the final four games of the season for 931 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception. That was good for a quarterback passer rating of 99.1.
Bates is believed to still be under contract with the Jets even though Bowles was officially fired on Sunday night. He is not expected back with the Jets, though, and all of Bowles' former assistants are expected to eventually be fired, too.