Two games into what will perhaps be one of the worst seasons in franchise history, Jets fans are already calling for the head of head coach Todd Bowles. Some have even said he is, “The worst head coach of all-time.” While I cannot endorse Todd Bowles, I can say “relax.” If he can somehow lure Jon Gruden out of the booth after this season, go ahead. If they cannot win one of their next three games (vs. Miami, vs.Jacksonville, at Cleveland) and they start to snowball towards 0-16, I’ll support a march to MetLife demanding his firing. For now, let’s just wait and see.
The claim that he is the worst coach of all-time is a little over the top. On the 1995 and 1996 seasons, Rich Kotite led the Jets to a combined four wins. While it remains to be seen whether this team will be worse than the 96′ team, on paper the 96′ squad is much better. They had Neil O’Donnell, who led the Steelers to the Super Bowl the previous year, and Frank Reich, start games for them at Quarterback. They had a 1,000 yard rusher in Adrian Murrell, and receivers like number one overall pick Keyshawn Johnson, Wayne Chrebet, who was Wes Welker before Wes Welker, and Jeff Graham, who had over 1,300 yards the previous year. The defense was led by reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, Hugh Douglas at Defensive End. They also had future Pro Bowl Corner Aaron Glenn, and mainstays like Marvin Jones and Mo Lewis at Linebacker. What happened to this 1-15 team? After firing Rich Kotite, Bill Parcells came in and got them within a game of the playoffs the next year. The year after that, they were in the AFC Championship game.
While this year’s defense has some talent, the offense was projected to be historically bad. Their starting Quarterback (for now) is journeyman, Josh McCown, They have a running back whose best years are behind him in Matt Forte, and their best receiver is Jermaine Kearse, whose career high in receiving yards is 685 yards despite being part of the Seahawks Super Bowl teams.
The Jets first two seasons with Todd Bowles are hard to judge, since they were almost the exact opposites. His tenure got off to a rocky start when Geno Smith got punched in the face by a teammate and broke his jaw. Despite the “Same Old Jets” feeling, everything after that was magical. Journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick had a career year, Chris Ivory lead the AFC in rushing, and Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker were one of the best receiving duos in the league. Their 4th ranking defense was led by Muhammad Wilkerson, David Harris, and Darrelle Revis. There was a little luck involved since they avoided major injuries and only beating two teams with a winning record, their division rival Patriots and the Washington Redskins. Their luck, however, ran out the last week of the season as they lost to the Bills and were eliminated from the playoffs despite finishing 10-6.
Last year was almost the opposite of his first year. They lost Decker, Forte, and Nick Mangold to injury, older players like Revis, Marshall, and Harris declined, and there was tension in the locker room. Fitzpatrick was benched twice and only got his job back after injuries to Smith and Bryce Petty. Their schedule was also tougher than the previous year, with seven games against playoff teams. After last year’s debacle, the Jets cleaned house and made it clear that this season is also about getting the number one pick in the draft, which makes it hard to judge Bowles.
Another thing the Jets should keep in mind is stability. If you look at the premiere franchises in the NFL, you will notice that they do not make a lot of coaching changes. The Steelers have had 3 coaches since 1970, the Patriots have had Bill Belichick since 2000, and the Packers, Giants, and Seahawks also have had coach last for a long time. Conversely, if you look at bottom feeders like the Browns, 49ers, and Bills, you will notice they change coaches fast. The Browns have had five coaches this decade, the 49ers are on their third coach in as many years since firing Jim Harbaugh, and Bills are on their fourth coach in six years. When you fire a coach, you often have to bring in players that fit the new coach’s system leading to a massive roster overhaul. Changing your coach and roster every two years makes it hard to build a winner.
So what does Bowles need to do to keep his job? Obviously, if the Jets go 0-16 he should be fired. The other two factors that will decide whether or not Bowles is the Jets Head Coach in 2018, are how much the team improves and how hard they play. If they win two games, but they have a lot of close losses at the end of the season, Bowles might keep his job. If they are getting blown out at the end of the year, then Bowles should look for a new job. For now, a wait-and-see approach is the way to go for the Jets.