FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Jets had no choice but to fire Todd Bowles. There had been too much losing, too many discipline problems and just a general loss of hope over the last four years.
But don't for a second think this latest Jets mess was solely a Bowles creation. The truth of his ill-fated tenure as Jets head coach is that he never really had much of a chance.
That, as much as the losing, is the legacy of the Bowles era, which ended on Sunday when he was officially fired from the job he's held since 2015. He leaves with a terrible, 24-40 record and as the first coach to last more than three seasons with this franchise without leading them into the playoffs even once.
He was close, of course. The Jets shocked everyone during his rookie season when he squeezed a 10-5 record out of them with journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback and had them on the edge of the postseason after a 26-20 overtime win over the Patriots in Week 16. All they had to do was win in Buffalo in the final game of the season.
And that's where everything started to go horribly wrong.
Think about what happened in the time after Fitzpatrick's three-interception mess that day as the Jets blew their shot at the playoffs with a 22-17 loss to the Bills. Right at that moment, the Jets had to know they had an aging, expensive team and no franchise quarterback. Their 10-6 season was something of a mirage.
The prudent thing to do right then was to blow everything up, to let the still-new tandem of Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan start over and build their program from scratch. Instead, the Jets lulled themselves into the idea that they could squeeze one more playoff run at their mismatched roster. They even waited out Fitzpatrick until the eve of training camp when they finally brought him back for one more run.
And the result was predictable. Fitzpatrick, coming off an unexpected career year, turned back into a pumpkin. And once the losing started, the locker room imploded. Players took sides in a Brandon Marshall-Sheldon Richardson feud that many players later admitted made the entire team dysfunctional. And Bowles never could regain control.
Obviously that goes on Bowles' record. As much as his players insist he's more of a disciplinarian than it seemed, his inability to control his players has been one of his greatest failures. But he was handed a bad mix of players that showed their true colors when the going got tough. To the Jets' credit, they would clean house over the next two seasons, but that still made 2016 a wasted year.
After that, the Jets blew everything up. But by then, Bowles was entering Year 3 and staring at a roster with no quarterback and questionable talent all around. Maccagnan obviously hoped former second-round pick Christian Hackenberg would become the quarterback, but they wasted two years waiting for that to happen. And Maccagnan's constant failures on draft day left Bowles coaching one of the worst rosters in the league for two years straight.
Bowles was simply in a no-win situation. And that was true again this season when he named 21-year-old rookie Sam Darnold his starting quarterback for Opening Day. Starting a rookie quarterback is never a recipe for instant success. Bowles had to know he was sacrificing this season -- and maybe his career -- for the greater good.
The last few weeks have finally shown glimpses of a better future for the Jets. The world has seen what they might be capable of if Darnold is as good as everyone believes. But all that comes too late for Bowles, whose fate was sealed on Nov. 11, when his team was a virtual no-show in an ugly, 41-10 home loss to quarterback Matt Barkley and the Bills.
A coach can't survive three straight seasons of double-digit losses, and Bowles knows that. But how many coaches could have done much better given the talent he had to work with, in this situation? By the time the Jets centered on a plan and decided to build toward the future, it was already too late for their coach of the present.
Bowles was a flawed coach, to be sure. But he might have had a chance if the Jets had started the rebuilding earlier, if Maccagnan had made better choices in free agency and the draft. The players seem to genuinely like Bowles. They certainly played hard for him at the end.
They just weren't good enough. And while that goes on Bowles' record, it isn't all his failure. Everyone who helped build this team and couldn't settle on a plan should share in his failure, too.