Gregg Williams fallout offers Jets lessons for next coach
This was 23 months ago in Mobile, Ala. It was Senior Bowl week in January 2019, and the buzz around the bars, hotel lobbies and in the bleachers of the stadium was about the Jets new coaching staff.
People from around the NFL were fascinated by the pairing of head coach Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. They were known as two alpha males who had oversized egos and were known for having a low tolerance for those they deemed as fools.
How would it work? Could they get along? Who would stab whom in the back first? These were the questions that were asked that week.
It felt like a marriage doomed from the start. On Monday, the divorce was finalized.
The Cover Zero blitz that Williams called Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium was the final blow to a relationship that had been on the rocks. But Williams’ overzealous decision to blitz Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and leave rookie cornerback Lamar Jackson alone in coverage on Henry Ruggs III infuriated nearly everyone inside the Jets organization. From the players, who thought they were about to win their first game of the season, to management, who may be secretly dreaming of Trevor Lawrence but are still pulling for their players, everyone was upset with Williams.
On Monday morning, Gase made the call after consulting with team CEO Christopher Johnson, president Hymie Elhai and general manager Joe Douglas. Gase said they all agreed that Williams had to go.
“I just felt like that was the best thing for our team moving forward,” Gase said.
It might seem illogical to some that a coach who is now 7-21 with the Jets and 0-12 this season gets to fire anyone. It feels a bit like Edward Smith, the captain of the Titanic, pushing his first mate overboard after the ship has already hit the iceberg and is sinking. But Gase is still the head coach … for now. This is still his decision, and it sounds like all of the Jets leadership signed off on the move.
For Gase, the end is near. The Jets seem resolved to not fire him during the season, letting him ride this thing out. That would give him four more weeks on the job before the Jets set out to find a replacement.
There is a lesson to be learned in this whole Williams-Gase saga that Jets management should learn from in the next coaching search.
Gase said he has never overruled Williams on a play call, even though that is his right as head coach. On Sunday, it sounded like he was caught flat footed when Williams made his call. The NFL Network reported Gase was not even aware of Williams’ call until he heard a coach say “zero” over the headset. By then, it was too late.
“I wish I would have called timeout, but I didn’t,” Gase said.
This is symptomatic of a greater problem in how the setup has worked with the Jets. Gase said on Day 1 he was going to hire a “head coach” of the defense, implying he would be hands off when it came to that side of the ball. There were rumors that former assistant general manager Brian Heimerdinger was the one who wanted Williams to run the defense, no matter which offensive mind was chosen to be head coach.
Whether Gase chose him or not, the setup was clear. The defensive side of the ball was Williams. Gase stayed away. It has been that way to varying degrees under the previous two Jets head coaches, too, with Rex Ryan and Todd Bowles sticking to defense and neglecting their offense.
The next coach needs to be one that handles every aspect of the football team. Delegating is one thing. Neglect is another. The Jets can’t be enamored with the hottest play-caller in football. The head coach job is way more than calling plays. They need someone who can devote equal parts of their time to offense, defense, special teams and every other aspect of the job.
That will come next month. If the Jets get this one right, maybe the buzz around the league this time will be about the potential of the Jets’ new coaching staff, not its potential for disaster.