FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Todd Bowles is a man of few words in public, never one to be the life of the party or a quotable media darling.
The Jets coach has won over his players for that very reason. It’s the stuff that no one else sees that has his squad professing loyalty to the man leading the way.
“As a man, as a player, I love him,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “I’d run through a wall for him. I’ve only been here a year, and I love everything about him.
“That’s my coach.”
Yes, in Todd, they trust.
During his news conferences, Bowles comes across as dry, bland and unemotional. On the sideline, some fans wish they’d see more fire, particularly when things aren’t going the Jets’ way.
That, however, isn’t who Bowles is.
The 54-year-old coach, who’s in his third season with the Jets and has one year left on his contract, handles his business behind closed doors. He saves his yelling — and, yes, he does quite a bit of it — for when he’s out of earshot of the media. He treats his players like family and preaches team unity above all else.
“He’s an outgoing guy, but he’s never too high and never too down,” said cornerback Morris Claiborne, in his first season with the Jets. “He’s a straight shooter.”
That approach has helped lead New York to a 5-7 mark that has surprised just about everyone outside of the Jets’ training facility.
Speaking of which, Bowles made a point during the offseason to hammer home his vision by displaying motivational messages throughout redecorated halls to serve as constant reminders to his players. The entire franchise also adopted his “One Team, One Goal” slogan.
Sure, the playoffs are still only a slight possibility, but the fact that the Jets are playing meaningful games in December is a credit to the work Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan have done over the last several months to turn a team that many thought would be laughable into a squad that is respectable.
“That’s all noise, all he-said, she-said,” nose tackle Steve McLendon said. “At the end of the day, we’re the ones playing, not the ones saying that we’re going to go 0-16 or whatever they were saying. It’s not about them. It’s completely about every one of us in that locker room who’s putting on that uniform each and every week to go out there and compete for a win.”
The Jets have been competitive just about every week this season. And that is a direct reflection on Bowles.
He has gotten this group to play hard, something not easily done when the odds seem so stacked. Up until a wild 38-31 win on Sunday against Kansas City, New York had lost five of its last six and blown fourth-quarter leads in three of those defeats. That’s enough to sink a team and put a coach who’s already on the hot seat right into the fire.
But this Jets squad has been a study in resilience.
“It’s hard not to give him the credit and I think he’s done a heck of a job with our group,” said 38-year-old quarterback Josh McCown, who’s having the best season of his career. “His message has been the same week in and week out. And it’s a reflection of him as far as just the mental toughness to go through the changes that we went through in the offseason.
“He was steady. His message never changed, he never wavered, he never complained. I think that was huge for us and I think that kind of steadiness for us is bearing fruit right now.”
The fact is, this is a collection of veterans, youngsters, castoffs and drafted talents on a roster that lacks bona fide star power. New York might not even have a player selected for the Pro Bowl.
But there are some real pieces to build on as foundations. Second-year receiver Robby Anderson is emerging as a game-breaking threat after going undrafted last year. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams has played better after an early-season wrist injury. The defense has two potential stars with rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, and middle linebacker Demario Davis has established himself as an emotional and playmaking leader.
“‘One Team, One Goal’ has been our mantra all year, and we’re going to win with the guys in this locker room, and that’s what’s most important and he’s preached that,” Beachum said. “He hasn’t changed, he hasn’t wavered.”
Bowles also refuses to publicly criticize his players, but issues swift discipline. That was the case Sunday, when second-year linebacker Darron Lee was benched for the game for being late to a practice, and veteran DE Muhammad Wilkerson sat for the first quarter for being late to a team meeting.
“You treat everybody like grown men, which they are, and there are consequences and repercussions for everything that we do here,” Bowles said. “We have rules that we go by, and you treat them like men. You put in a hard day’s work, and we take no wooden nickels. I don’t believe in beating around the bush. I don’t want anybody to beat around the bush with me.
“We have our fun, but we get our work in.”
That’s all made for an optimistic environment in which learning to win is an ongoing process – with Bowles setting the tone.
“I hope I’m here for a long time and I hope he’s here for a long time, because when you have coaches like that who you believe in, that you trust, that’s important,” Beachum said. “It’s good for the game, good for our game as a team. Especially with all the ebbs and flows that we’ve had this season, he’s remained steady.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)