By Ernie Palladino
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The most encouraging thing that came out of Todd Bowles’ mouth in Wednesday’s introductory press conference had nothing to do with rings or toughness or locker room culture.
And yet, it had everything to do with them.
It was about himself and new general manager Mike Maccagnan, a man the Jets’ 51-year-old rookie head coach has known as a football equal for less than three weeks.
“Just hitting it off with him early on and we’ve been on the same page as far as the way we see things, understand players, and understand the business … us going forward with each of us not having an ego,” Bowles said. “All those were important to me and eased my mind about this job.”
It’s good Bowles saw it that way. As followers of any pro sport have seen over the years, and in the NFL in particular, the connection between head coach and general manager can make or break a team.
They don’t have to love each other. Jim Fassel and Ernie Accorsi never did reach the lovey-dovey stage, but they worked together well enough to produce a Super Bowl team in 2000. Bill Parcells had his differences with George Young, but there are two Lombardi Trophies in the Quest Diagnostics Training Camp display case because they put a common agenda above their rather healthy egos.
Whether Bowles and Maccagnan ever become personal bosom buddies will depend on how their personalities mesh over time. Ultimately, it will never matter if Bowles likes hot dogs and Maccagnan likes hamburgers. The important thing now is that they head into this busy, tense offseason with a mutual understanding of the reclamation project that lies before them after Rex Ryan’s and John Idzik’s 4-12 train wreck.
The Jets’ front office missed that the last two years. Ryan and Idzik never did get on the same page in terms of quarterback, timetable, or even employment status.
They never did hit it off; we know that now despite all the prior claims to the contrary as Ryan tried to deliver himself and his team from disaster. Idzik forced Geno Smith on his head coach, thereby backing him into an inescapable corner as Ryan played the good soldier. But we now know through Ryan’s quarterback coach David Lee that he knew Smith darned well couldn’t win. Not at this stage of his career, anyway.
“Rex and I talked about it,” Lee said in an interview on the John Murphy website show in Buffalo, where he will now coach quarterbacks for Ryan’s Bills. “(Smith) had some inconsistency, and the up-and-down part is what killed us. … We played good enough defense to win over there the last two years. But his play, it’ll cost you. And it cost us.”
Ryan and Idzik’s personal agendas also conflicted, almost as much as their personalities. Ryan, an ego-flailing, hysterically funny reporter’s dream, was stuck in a “win-now” mode after going 8-8 in 2013. Dry, confused, stone-faced Idzik thought he needed to build slowly for the future. Subsequent reports intimated the general manager had every intention of going forward with another coach — his own guy.
Bowles didn’t put his name on the dotted line until Woody Johnson and Maccagnan convinced him that situation no longer existed.
“I’ve been around front offices where they were in disarray,” Bowles said. “I’ve seen how those things work, and you definitely don’t want that kind of job.”
Bowles and Maccagnan have a big enough job ahead of them without the extra-curricular stuff. Bowles’ backhanded assessment of Smith as “a great college quarterback” indicates that a big chunk of the Jets’ $48 million of salary cap space the Over-the-Cap website estimates will go to another veteran or high-round draft pick to compete with Smith. They still don’t have a quality cornerback. With David Harris probably leaving in free agency, they’ll need at least one veteran linebacker.
And then there’s depth.
Bowles and Maccagnan will have to work hand-in-hand on this. Four-and-12 leaves a boatload of work and no room for conflicting philosophies.
From Bowles’ viewpoint, anyway, it seems the two have gotten off on the right foot.
Now we’ll see where the walk leads them, and how long it will take them to get there.
So far, they’re in it side-by-side. It’s a good start.