By Pete Baxter
By the end of the 2021 NFL season, there will undoubtedly be several NFL head coaching changes. The odds-on favorite to be fired first seems to be Matt Nagy. Urban Meier may flee back to the college ranks any minute now. There are rumors that Joe Judge is losing the Giants’ locker room. There are a few teams that may be even cut ties with their coach mid-season.
Fortunately for these dumpster fire franchises, there are several experienced, successful former head coaches waiting in the wings. Two of the top names first cut their teeth as head coaches in the sewage-filled shark tank that is the New York Jets franchise. Surviving in New York, let alone finding some level of success there, is a red badge of courage that deserves recognition. Spoiler alert: I am not talking about Adam Gase.
Let’s take a closer look at two of the most intriguing names on the unemployed head coach market, and fondly remember their turbulent Jets’ tenures:
Up First: Todd Bowles
Todd Bowles is the first of two former New York Jets head coaches that we will discuss. This, of course, is due in part to the theory that anyone who manages to find even minimal success with the Jets deserves a redo. The Jets are one of the worst run NFL franchises in the most intimidating media market on Earth. Overcoming these built-in disadvantages to achieve even minimal relevance deserves some credit.
Todd Bowles spent four full seasons as the Jets’ head coach from 2015 to 2018. This followed a brief three-game stint as interim head coach in Miami in 2011. Bowles’ overall record is not great. He has a career record of 26-41, just a .388 winning percentage. He never made the playoffs.
However, a closer look shows that Bowles did in fact find a glimpse of success in New York. In his first year with the team, he led a Ryan Fitzpatrick helmed team to an impressive 10-6 record. Despite this playoff-caliber record, they were shockingly eliminated from playoff contention in the eleventh hour. Fun fact, this is tied for the second-best record of a Jets team since 1998! The only 21st century Jets coach to win more than 10 games in a season was Rex Ryan in 2010. That, by the way, was the last season the Jets made the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the wheels fell off and the Jets returned to their classic form after that great first season. Fitzpatrick came back down to Earth after setting the franchise record for touchdown passes in 2015. He held out for a new contract and proceeded to throw just 12 touchdowns to 17 interceptions in 2016. The Jets struggled to a 5-11 record and moved on from Fitzpatrick. A combination of a washed-up Josh McCown and rookie Sam Darnold during Bowles’ final two seasons in New York were not able to help get things back on track.
Since Bowles lost his job in New York, the Jets have become arguably the worst franchise in football. They are 9-26 in the two-plus seasons since. Adam Gase, the googly-eyed boy wonder, replaced Bowles and watched his own career crumble within two seasons. Things have only gotten worse so far during the brief Robert Saleh era.
Meanwhile, Bowles has reminded the NFL that he is one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL. Bowles has built one of the best defensive units in the league in Tampa Bay. He helped Tom Brady and company win the Super Bowl in 2020 as defensive coordinator. His defense shut down Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered Chiefs’ offense in historic fashion.
Bowles has done his time and rebuilt his reputation in Tampa Bay. He deserves a second chance as a head coach. He learned every lesson there was to learn (the hard way) in New York. Give this man a decent quarterback and some talent on defense, and Bowles could quickly help build a winner.
Where Should He Go?
If the New York Giants are unable to turn things around this season, which seems like a virtual lock, General Manager Dave Gettleman is a goner. It is safe to assume that his head coach, Joe Judge, will follow him out the door.
Todd Bowles has handled the New York football scene before. The Giants have decent talent on defense, which Bowles could almost certainly maximize. They were a top-10 squad in terms of points allowed in 2020. The new GM and head coach would certainly have a lottery pick to play with next season. They would have the option of attempting to resurrect Daniel Jones by rebuilding the offensive line (the offense has decent weapons at his disposal already) or they could take a new quarterback of their own to build around.
The Giants, while the past several years may have shown otherwise, are a considerably better run franchise than the Jets. Todd Bowles deserves a second chance in New York.
A Blast From The Past: Rex Ryan
Rex Ryan may be remembered by some more for his boisterous personality and short tenure in Buffalo than his time in New York. That does Ryan a massive disservice. Rex Ryan was arguably the most successful Jets head coach of the modern era, possibly since their lone Super Bowl win in 1968. Ryan led the Jets to back-to-back AFC Conference Championship games in 2009 and 2010 while achieving the team’s best regular season record since the 90’s. He accomplished all of this with the notorious butt-fumbler, Mark Sanchez, as his quarterback. The Jets actually made the conference finals in Mark Sanchez’ rookie season under Ryan. That is a truly incredible accomplishment.
Unfortunately, the Jets are still the Jets. Despite his success, Ryan finished his Jets tenure with a 61-66 record (.480 winning percentage). Ryan was unable to sustain success without a viable starting quarterback. He failed to maintain his winning ways past his first two seasons in New York. The Jets missed the playoffs during his final four seasons in the Big Apple. He did, however, finish at least .500 during four of his six years as head coach. In the realm of Jets head coaching, that alone is a massive accomplishment.
Ryan also proved himself to be a truly elite defensive coach. He found massive success in Baltimore as a defensive coordinator, where he helped build an all-time dominant defense and won a Super Bowl. He parlayed that success as a coordinator into a head coaching gig in New York. He instantly built an elite defensive unit in New York. That squad was able to carry Mark Sanchez and company to playoff success for two seasons.
After losing his job in New York, he was quickly scooped up by Buffalo. Unfortunately, this was a bad fit from the start. He butted heads with upper management and veteran players. He ultimately lost his job near the end of his second season. He finished 15-16 as Bills head coach (which, considering the Bills had not made the playoffs since the 90’s was far from a disaster, it was just the status quo at that point).
Rex Ryan has never had a truly viable starting quarterback. He has never had the chance to coach in a well-run franchise. Remember, the Bills have turned it around in recent years but were a dumpster fire for decades. He still managed to make back-to-back Conference Championship games and cement himself as one of the top defensive minds of the modern era. Not many coaches get a third shot as a head coach. I strongly believe Rex Ryan deserves it.
Where Should He Go?
No question, as I have discussed deeper in a recent article, Rex Ryan should be strongly considered to replace Matt Nagy in Chicago. The Bears have talent on defense but have underachieved in recent years. Ryan could quickly return this defensive squad into an elite group. Justin Fields has massive potential and, with the right coach (not Matt Nagy), will be a superstar. Ryan has made chicken salad from Mark Sanchez-tainted chicken poop in the past. Imagine what he could cook up with an elite athlete at quarterback like Justin Fields.
Rex Ryan, with his no-filter, boisterous personality would be a great fit in a tough, blue-collar city like Chicago. I want to see it, and he deserves a shot at it.
More to come.
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