By Ernie Palladino
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There are always second chances in the NFL. And Todd Bowles needed only to look across the field at his coaching counterpart, Bill Belichick, at any point during the Jets’ 22-17 loss on Sunday to the Patriots to understand that.
Despite a game effort undermined at the end by first a defensive collapse and then a strip-sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick and recovery of his fumble, one can safely assume Bowles is looking at a short head coaching tenure.
But the good news for him is that whenever the axe does fall, be it at the end of this current 3-8 train wreck that could easily wind up anywhere between 4-12 and 6-10, or more likely after next season when Woody Johnson decides that it’s time to start over yet again, he will likely get another chance somewhere.
It may require him to step down to defensive coordinator for a couple of years to rehab the old résumé, but it will happen.
The key whenever that second opportunity does arise will come in picking the right situation. And for that, he can always reference his Sunday conqueror, Belichick, as a prime example.
The Patriots’ coach, headed to the Hall of Fame on the strength of four Super Bowl victories, wasn’t exactly hot stuff after his first go-around with the Browns. The record read 31-45 from 1991-95. Aside from the 11-5 playoff season in ‘94, the rest of his teams there won no more than seven games.
He didn’t particularly buddy up to the press, either. His public persona was just about as colorful back then as Bowles’ is today, which is not very. And as Bowles is now learning, if you’re not winning, you’d best be filling up your inquisitors’ notebooks and video rolls with quaint stories and quotable quotes.
But whether or not Bowles ever does morph into Chris Rock — certainly Belichick hasn’t, but having locked down his 16th consecutive winning season Sunday at 9-2 has made that unnecessary, anyway — will come secondary to the choice he makes for his next head coaching assignment.
It won’t happen with a winner, since coaches who succeed generally keep their jobs. But it can happen with a stable operation, headed by an owner with some clue about things and a commitment to turning things around.
That may involve saying no to a suitor or two. He may even have to pass up an entire offseason of jobs and wait another year for a better situation.
Once again, Bowles can look to Belichick, who bypassed that whole waiting process as the millennium turned.
Jets fans still look at that morning in early January 2000, as the day the big one spit the hook. After three years coordinating the defense for his retiring Jets predecessor, Bill Parcells, and one day after his elevation to head coach, Belichick authored what remains the worst day in team history by scrawling “I resign as the HC of the NYJ” on a napkin he handed to team president Steve Gutman.
In a rambling 30-minute press conference that day, he explained that he had “no clear direction of where I’m going in the organization.” Fair enough, considering longtime owner Leon Hess had died, and Woody Johnson and Cablevision’s Charles Dolan were battling for the team.
Imagine how Belichick would have felt if he had to work under the eventual winner Johnson instead of Robert Kraft?
A month later, he signed with New England.
The rest is history, little of it good for the Jets. Belichick has since tormented that franchise at a 23-10 rate while benefiting from such Jets low-water marks as the Thanksgiving Day Butt-Fumble and John Idzik’s decision to let Darrelle Revis join the Patriots’ defensive backfield.
There’s no saying Bowles’ second chance will bear the same fruits as Belichick’s. No one else has come close to Belichick’s long-term success, after all.
But it does point out two important aspects of NFL coaching. Just because a first job ends badly doesn’t mean a second one won’t be waiting out there at some point. And when that next job does come along, the coach should think long and hard about what kind of organization he’s getting himself into.
Belichick did the right thing in walking away from the Jets those many years ago.
Bowles, who probably won’t last past next season if he even survives this mess, needs to be selective in his next choice.
A lot of failed coaches get second chances in the NFL.
Thirds? Not so much.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino