The Jets' long road from Todd Bowles to Adam Gase began in mid-November, long before either of them were fired from their old jobs. It started after a humiliating, 41-10 home loss by Bowles' Jets to the Buffalo Bills just before the bye week.
The week off gave the entire organization a chance to reassess itself. And the consensus inside the building became that the Jets needed a change.
What happened next was the beginning of what CEO Christopher Johnson later promised was an "extensive" search that over a two-month period included a look at Jim Harbaugh, a flirtation with Mike McCarthy, a push for Matt Rhule and a surprising inability to dismiss Todd Monken. When it was over, they ended up with a new head coach who wasn't on their original list because he was coaching a team in a playoff race with three weeks left in the regular season.
There was no real reason to think Adam Gase would even be available back then. So how did the Jets end up introducing him as the 19th coach in franchise history on Monday?
Through interviews with multiple NFL sources inside and outside the Jets organization, and some sources close to several of the eight candidates the Jets interviewed (and several more they considered), here's a look at the winding road of a search that took them from Bowles to Harbaugh to McCarthy to Rhule, and eventually to Adam Gase:
In the beginning
There had been a sense all season long, as SNY reported back in September, that Bowles' job wasn't safe this year despite the contract extension that took him through 2020. There were too many questions about his lack of discipline with players, his game-day coaching decisions, and his team's penchant for looking unprepared. The worries first resurfaced after a Sept. 20 loss in Cleveland when the Jets looked unprepared for rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, who came in and rallied the Browns to victory.
When they were blown out by Buffalo at home two months later, even though the Bills were starting a quarterback (Matt Barkley) they signed less than two weeks earlier, the Jets' decision-makers had seen enough. During the bye week they made the decision to begin researching candidates. Even Bowles knew what was coming, because right around then he began talking with his old boss, Bruce Arians, about possibly re-joining him as a defensive coordinator if Arians took another job (which he eventually did, as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
At the time, one source said Johnson's first instinct was to make a splash with his hire, to bring in a coach that could re-energize the franchise and the fan base. The Jets knew they needed an offensive coach who could develop their young, franchise quarterback, Sam Darnold, and they preferred someone with experience.
There weren't many coaches available who fit that description, though.
Harbaugh, of course, was one and would have been an enormous splash. And though the Jets later denied their interest, multiple sources said they did at least do some background work on Harbaugh to see what it would take to lure him to New York. It's unclear how far those inquiries got, but the Jets apparently were left with the impression that either he wouldn't be a good fit (i.e. he'd want too much power or money) or he wasn't interested in leaving Michigan.
So they concentrated most of their initial work on other college coaches and up-and-coming young assistants in the search for what everyone in the NFL wanted thanks to the success of the Los Angeles Rams -- the next Sean McVay.
Enter Mike McCarthy
Then, on Dec. 2, the Jets seemingly got a gift: The Packers fired Mike McCarthy with four weeks left in his 13th NFL season. He was everything the Jets were looking for in a new coach. He had an extensive offensive background, a history of success, a Super Bowl championship. He would come in with instant credibility with players and fans and, after his work with Aaron Rodgers, an obvious ability to develop Darnold.
The Jets began asking around about McCarthy -- whom one source said was immediately at the top of Johnson's wish list -- but around the league there were concerns. McCarthy was known to be sensitive to criticism, and it showed many times during his years in small-market Green Bay with a relatively small media corps. Some wondered if he could handle New York, or if he'd even want to try. Others suggested McCarthy was strongly considering sitting out all of 2019 so he didn't have to uproot his family from Green Bay.
McCarthy also had drawn some interest from the Browns and Cardinals, and some thought he'd prefer either of those two jobs. The Jets were planning to interview him regardless.
The 'extensive' field
The Jets announced the firing of Bowles a few hours after their 4-12 season ended with a 38-3 loss up in New England, but multiple sources said Bowles had been told officially of the decision weeks earlier. So he wasn't surprised, and the Jets were ready with their list of candidates. They began reaching out to and requesting permission to interview those coaches the next morning.
The list initially was highlighted by McCarthy, who by then had signaled an interest to at least talk to the Jets. They also requested permission to talk with Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken and Cowboys defensive backs coach Kris Richard. They also had interest in Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur-- a McVay disciple who ended up as the new head coach of the Packers, though it's not clear if the Jets ever requested permission to interview him or if he simply declined.
Also on the list was former Colts and Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who one source said was a "stealth" candidate at the time, but at 63 years old probably a little older than the Jets wanted. They also had identified at least three college coaches they wanted to talk to -- Baylor's Matt Rhule, USC offensive coordinator (and former Texas Tech coach) Kliff Kingsbury, and Iowa State's Matt Campbell who turned the Jets down.
Then, on Monday morning, hours after the Jets made the Bowles firing official, the Dolphins fired the 40-year-old Gase -- and he immediately was added to the Jets' list. One source said he quickly vaulted to near the top because he was one of the few candidates with head coaching experience and an offensive background.
The Final Four
Knowing the Jets wanted experience and someone who could help Darnold, some of the coaches on the list may have been more about possible coordinator jobs, or just picking their brains about how to handle their young quarterback and the offense. Monken and Kingsbury seemed to fit that category as possible offensive coordinator candidates. Kingsbury in particular had a losing record as a college coach, but a track record of developing quarterbacks. The Jets were interested in hiring him in some capacity, but 24 hours after his interview he was hired by the Cardinals as their head coach -- the team he seemed to be destined to land with all along.
Monken, meanwhile, seemed to really impress the Jets in his interview. If he wasn't a serious candidate for the head coach job from the beginning, he certainly was when he left. His energy, enthusiasm and offensive ideas were strong. His lack of experience remained a concern, but the Jets liked him enough that they pitched him to several other candidates as an offensive coordinator. It was clear they wanted to hire him for something if they could.
Monken eventually did make a final four, which included McCarthy, Rhule and Gase -- another energetic, young coach who blew away the Jets in his interview. Which one was at the top of the heap in the final days depended on whom you asked and when.
So what happened to McCarthy?
The Jets were serious about McCarthy and he definitely appeared to be a favorite at one point. But his standing in the search seemed to wane after he finally came in for an interview. The interview wasn't bad, according to one source, but some issues came up. One was that McCarthy seemed to be uncomfortable with the Jets' power structure, possibly meaning he wanted more control over personnel.
Another was that Jets GM Mike Maccagnan seemed to want a say in McCarthy's staff, and the former Packers coach wasn't comfortable with that at all. At least that was the take from McCarthy's side. The Jets strongly denied they were trying to have any influence over the hiring of any assistants on the staff of any of the candidates.
"At no point did we say we were going to choose your guys or we don't like that guy or we like this guy, we're going to put him in there," Johnson said on Monday. "No, that never happened. I completely deny it."
Regardless, when the interview was over, the Jets seemed to have the feeling that it wasn't going to work. Some felt McCarthy was more likely to sit out 2019 anyway. Soon after, McCarthy's camp leaked that the Jets job was the only one he was willing to consider -- a disingenuous statement at the time since he had already turned down an interview request from the Cardinals, and the Browns had settled on two other candidates. So the Jets were the only team interested in him at all.
That leak prompted one league source to tell SNY that McCarthy had to know he had a good chance at the job, otherwise he just would've leaked that he was sitting out 2019 to save himself from embarrassment. But in hindsight, that leak may have been his last-ditch attempt to erase the perception in the Jets organization that he wasn't interested in their job.
By then, the Jets weren't ruling McCarthy out, but their attention had turned elsewhere. And McCarthy had to know it, since he shares an agent with another top candidate -- Matt Rhule.
So what happened with Rhule?
Though it's not clear who liked whom in the Jets' organization during the search, some outside believe that Rhule -- a former Giants assistant (for one season) who turned around college programs at Temple and Baylor -- had become Maccagnan's favorite. The Jets had extensive talks with him, but they had concerns over his lack of NFL experience.
In those discussions with Rhule, the Jets made it clear that if they were to hire him they wanted to make sure he had an experienced NFL staff. They even pitched the idea of Monken to him as his offensive coordinator. They discussed several other possible assistants. It's not clear if the Jets told him whom he should hire -- remember, Johnson denied the Jets would have dictated the staff of any candidates -- but Rhule was left with the impression that they at least wanted to guide him in the process.
And Rhule would have none of that.
"I'm never going to be in an arranged marriage," he later told a Waco, Texas radio station. "I'm never going to subcontract jobs to the offense and defense. I want to hire people that believe in what I believe, that are going to do things our way."
That's advice that, according to one source, he got from his mentor -- Bill Parcells.
Hello, this is Peyton speaking
When Rhule was clearly out of the picture -- for whatever reason -- the Jets weren't comfortable enough with Monken as head coach, so that seemingly left them with McCarthy and Gase. Almost as soon as Rhule pulled out, though, they offered Gase the job.
There are a lot of reasons why Gase had leaped over McCarthy on their list. He's 15 years younger than McCarthy, and the Jets wanted someone who might be able to relate better to Darnold, who could grow with him over the years. His interview was simply better and more energetic and they were confident he wanted the job. They also remembered that three years earlier, Gase was the hot, young, offensive assistant that everybody wanted. Yes, he went 23-25 in three years with the Miami Dolphins, but he was coaching without his franchise quarterback exactly half the time.
And then there was the phone call that Johnson got from Peyton Manning, who thrived under Gase's direction in Denver when Gase was the Broncos quarterbacks coach (2012) and offensive coordinator (2013-14). Manning has long been an advocate for Gase. He pitched him to Dolphins ownership in 2016, and came in like Mariano Rivera to close the deal with the Jets, too.
Whether or not that call put Gase over the top, only Johnson knows for sure. But it's simply hard to ignore when one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time swears that Gase is the right guy to turn the Jets' franchise quarterback into the superstar everyone thinks he will be.
The Gase file
In the end, Johnson said it was "an easy choice" to hire Gase for a variety of reasons. He checked all the boxes the Jets were looking for, from his previous experience, to his offensive mind, to his work with quarterbacks, to being the disciplinarian the Jets believe their locker room needs. Also, as Johnson said, "Adam's vision synced well" with the vision of Johnson and Maccagnan.
And they loved that he was still a young coach with a grip on the modern NFL.
"He is intelligent, forward thinking, aggressive," Johnson said. "To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky, he's coaching to where football is going. That really appealed to me."
That sounds a little like Johnson thinks Gase represents the future, while McCarthy is more about the past -- an interpretation that one source said isn't unfair even Johnson didn't go quite that far.
"McCarthy is terrific, absolutely," Johnson said. "I was really impressed by him. Obviously he had this incredible run with two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and with this amazing franchise in Green Bay.
"I'm just really convinced that (Gase) is the man. It's not that there was anything wrong with McCarthy or any of the other guys. They were fantastic.
"But Adam took it to a new level."