Before Adam Gase and Mike Maccagnan were paired in January, the New York Jets' previous two coach-general manager marriages went something like this:
Let's rewind to 2013. Rex Ryan, say hello to John Idzik, your new GM. He's a salary-cap guy, but we're putting him in charge of all football decisions. Relax, Rex, you'll get along great. His father was a former Jets assistant, just like yours. It's destiny! Outcome: The relationship turned toxic and both were fired two years later.
Now, 2015. Mike, meet Todd Bowles. Todd, this is Mike. You're both getting four-year contracts and you'll be introduced tomorrow at a news conference. Oh, don't worry, you guys will hit it off. You have a lot in common because you're both from New Jersey! Outcome: The Jets went 24-40 in four seasons and Bowles was fired amid rumors of a fractured relationship with Maccagnan.
Now the Jets are starting over with Gase and Maccagnan, whose first test as a power couple will come Wednesday with the start of free agency.
They're football strangers, sharing no common background, but this is different from the previous partnerships in that Maccagnan had significant input into Gase's hiring. Still, the perception of them is atypical because the GM -- Maccagnan -- is the one under pressure, in win-now mode. In most cases, the coach is on the short-term schedule, living and dying in the NFL's week-to-week world of W's and L's.
That said, it should come as no surprise the Jets were a near-unanimous choice among executives as the most desperate team entering free agency, ESPN's Mike Sando reported from last week's scouting combine. One executive, calling it a "bad" free-agent class, suggested the Jets could fall into a trap, saying, "If you're not careful, you can base your decisions on what is in the best short-term interests of the GM as opposed to the best long-term interests of the team."
It makes for a fascinating dynamic as the Jets prepare to be "very active" in free agency, according to Maccagnan. The Jets have a lot of money to spend ($102 million in cap space) and a lot of places to spend it (a league-low 39 players under contract.) The circumstances might prompt him to deviate from some of his free-agency tenets.
In recent years, Maccagnan gave the big contracts (guarantees beyond the first year) to players under 30, but he might make an exception or two this time. His track record also suggests he won't pay a premium for a running back, but that will get blown to smithereens if he signs Le'Veon Bell. It wouldn't surprise anyone if Maccagnan tries to load up for a serious playoff push; after all, he's still looking for his first postseason berth. Gase, with the security of a long-term contract, can afford to be slow and methodical.
"In today's world, I believe a head coach has to have an incredible relationship with the GM as a co-team builder," Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said. "They can't just push it off as, 'I'm just an X's-and-O's guy, I'll let you take care of the personnel.' It has to be in tandem."
In the Jets' power structure, Gase and Maccagnan both report to CEO Christopher Johnson, but Maccagnan has control of the 53-man roster. This is a different setup for Gase, who controlled the 53 in his previous job as coach of the Miami Dolphins. People familiar with Gase are curious to see how he handles the new role.
For the Jets to succeed, he and Maccagnan must meld their football philosophies into a Jets philosophy. If they're not aligned, it will be the same old story: an organization that lacks a singular vision. That, quite frankly, is one reason why the Jets have suffered in mediocrity for nearly a decade. They have a team, not a program, and that's one of the reasons why they have been eating the New England Patriots' dust. In the Foxborough bunker, there's only one voice and one direction.
"I've always believed the biggest dysfunction in NFL buildings is the inability for the coaching staff and the scouting staff to be philosophically on the same page consistently," said Oakland Raiders GM Mike Mayock, who, in his previous role as an NFL Network analyst, became familiar with the inner workings of many organizations.
Gase, 40, and Maccagnan, 51, don't have much in common from a football standpoint, but they're known in the business as grinders. Gase, who got his start as a Michigan State student who volunteered to do grunt work for then-coach Nick Saban, is a night owl. In Miami, he often didn't leave the office until 3 a.m. Since relocating to Florham Park, New Jersey, he has rarely ventured outside the facility, except to drive home.
Maccagnan, whose fascination with the draft began as a kid when he watched college games, recorded information on the players and did his own mock drafts, often stays late to watch tape in his office. While scouting on the road, he eschews the traditional press-box perch to sit in the crowd, usually near one of the benches. He likes that vantage point because it allows him to observe things (e.g. how a player reacts to a bad play) he wouldn't see from the press box.
So, yes, Maccagnan and Gase work hard. Now they have to work together.
Since late January, Maccagnan has been meeting with Gase and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to break down the roster and discuss position prototypes. The GM's job, in its simplest form, is to get players for the coach. To do that, he needs to know what the coach wants, right down to height, weight and speed for specific positions. Gase is detail-oriented in these meetings, often using "comps" when trying to convey his vision. For instance, when discussing wide receivers, he will mention Demaryius Thomas as the prototypical "X" receiver. He used to coach Thomas with the Denver Broncos.
Gase likes the Jets' roster because there's so much flexibility. With a whopping 26 players heading to free agency, and with only two players (Sam Darnold and Jamal Adams) due guaranteed money beyond 2019, Gase has inherited a ball of clay. He can mold it any way he wants -- with Maccagnan's approval, of course.
"I think this is a unique situation for a coaching staff," Gase said. "You can look at our roster and, on the surface, it looks like we have a good amount of needs, but really it's going to be about who we're re-signing to start, and a lot of those needs get plugged in there. Entering free agency and the draft, I think we're going to be able to really balance out our roster the way we want to."
Can Gase trust Maccagnan to supply the talent?
There are several blemishes on Maccagnan's draft and free-agency scorecard, although the hope of the organization is that the results will improve with better GM-coach synergy than in the past. His working relationship with Bowles was professional, but the communication lines got staticky at times. There was frustration on both sides. Maccagnan failed in four offseasons to deliver a quality edge rusher, which hurt Bowles' defense. At the same time, it was a challenge to accumulate offensive talent because Bowles went through three coordinators, changing systems and playbooks.
None of that matters anymore because it's a new offseason, with a new leadership team.
"We definitely want to be a team that is well-positioned, with a young core going forward that can compete for the playoffs on a regular basis," Maccagnan said. "There are a lot of opportunities in this free agency that I'm excited about."
Sounds good. Let's see if the outcome matches the talk.