Peyton Manning spent 18 years in the NFL, rewriting the NFL record book and winning two Super Bowls along the way. And a few years before Manning arrived in the league, John Elway did the same thing on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Those are two of the greatest quarterbacks who ever lived, and combined they may know more about the position and offensive football than any two people in history.
Manning once called new Jets coach Adam Gase "the smartest guy I know."
Elway once called Gase a "genius."
And when those two old quarterbacks talk about a coach like that, everyone else should listen.
The Jets obviously did, and that's the bottom line on why they hired the 40-year-old Gase to be the 19th coach in their franchise history. They are hoping some of that genius will rub off on Sam Darnold, their 21-year-old franchise quarterback.
That's what this whole search was about - finding a guru who could guide Darnold through his formative years and get the most out of him as quickly as possible. Manning felt so strongly about Gase's ability to do so that he made a personal plea to Jets CEO Christopher Johnson in a phone call, a source confirmed.
In fact, the best season of Manning's storied career came with Gase as his offensive coordinator in Denver, even though Manning was 37 and still coming back from multiple neck surgeries at the time.
Sure, maybe a lot of coaches could've succeeded with Manning, even at that stage of his career. But Gase has also had success with Jay Cutler and Tim Tebow. And he even squeezed production out of Brock Osweiler and journeyman Matt Moore.
"Other than Peyton he hasn't had much to work with, but look at what he's gotten out of some of these guys," said one NFC executive. "He's great with quarterbacks. They love him. He gets things out of them that few others could."
It's true that most of Gase's quarterback proteges have been flawed. Yet he squeezed just enough out of Tebow as his quarterbacks coach in Denver in 2011 to help the Broncos to the second round of the playoffs. In 2015, as the Bears offensive coordinator, he helped Cutler cut way down on his turnovers (only 11 interceptions) and record the highest passer rating of his career (92.3).
He also got just enough wins out of Osweiler and Moore to keep the Dolphins in contention, and even earn one playoff berth, while quarterback Ryan Tannehill was missing half of the team's games.
Gase's best work, though, and the work that got him on the NFL's head coaching carousel, came in Denver with Manning when he was the quarterbacks coach in 2012 and offensive coordinator in 2013-14. No one was sure Manning would even still be able to play when he first got to Denver, yet those turned into three of his finest NFL seasons. His 5,477-yard, 55-touchdown, 10-interception performance in 2013 was the best as the Broncos set several NFL offensive records and made a Super Bowl run.
And it's not like he was just holding a clipboard for Manning, either. Manning has a reputation for being an overly demanding player who can be tough on teammates and coaches. But Gase's work ethic and football brain clearly earned his respect.
"I really like Gase," Manning told Sports Illustrated's MMQB back in 2014. "I like playing for guys that are smarter than me and work as hard as me. Gase is there before I get there in the morning. That's what I like about Adam. He's always working, always thinking."
Manning has praised Gase for his play-calling, his innovation, his willingness to adjust. So just imagine all of that knowledge being shared with the young Darnold. The Jets obviously do.
Some of their offensive players were not happy with what they considered a lack of creativity and aggressiveness under Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates last season. They felt Darnold had the ability to do more than he was being asked to do.
Late in the season, the Jets opened up the playbook and Darnold relaxed. As a result, he completed 64 percent of his passes for 931 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception over the final four games of the season. That was good for a passer rating of 99.1. To some players that proved the point that Darnold wasn't being challenged enough. They felt Bates' play-calling and direction were stunting his growth.
Obviously there's still plenty of untapped potential in Darnold, which the Jets are hoping Gase can tap into quickly. This will be the first true, star young quarterback he'll have to develop. Tannehill was already 28 and four seasons into his NFL career when Gase arrived in 2016. That year, actually, Tannehill was thriving with a career-best completion percentage of 67.1, 2,995 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions before he missed the last three games with injuries.
He missed all of the 2017 season too. In fact, he missed 24 of the 48 games that Gase coached in Miami. So he never really had a chance to develop Tannehill the way he'll have with Darnold now. And the Jets obviously trust that Gase will develop him well -- because nothing is more important to the franchise than what happens with Darnold next.
"He'll be great for Darnold," the NFC executive said. "How he handles everything else that comes with the job remains to be seen. But he'll get the most out of the quarterback. He always does."