They say that one of the best qualities of a good head coach is consistently putting his players in the best position to be successful. It extends beyond X’s and O’s, too—sports, like the business world, is all about relationships. Those who can connect with their players, or at the very least encourage buy-in from their players, are going to have a better chance to produce results on the field.
Consider this quote from longtime NFL coach Bum Phillips:
“Don Shula can take his’n and beat you’n, and he could take you’n and beat his’n.”
Indeed, it seems like a common quality amongst the best head coaches in the history of the game. They’re simply capable of getting more out of their players and people than the average coach. There are great coaches, there are good coaches and there are average coaches. And then there are coaches like Adam Gase.
Gase’s career as an NFL head coach to this point reads like Phillips’ quote about the great Don Shula, but with a slight twist.
“Adam Gase can take his’n and lose to you’n, and he could take you’n and lose to his’n.”
Sporting a 30-34 career record as a head coach, Gase has been the epitome of average to this point in his career. But it isn’t just the average record—there are plenty of coaches with modest or worse records as the leaders of their teams. It’s how Gase has lost (he has 3 more wins than he does double digit losses) and how he has managed to alienate good players that is most incredible to consider. Gase’s teams have had some good talent—and they’re almost all universally better immediately after moving on from playing under his watch.
Consider some of the players jettisoned out of Miami during Gase’s three-year run with the team.
WR Jarvis Landry — Landry’s story is the most famous falling out in Miami. Landry was one of the NFL’s most productive players, but his two seasons under Gase in Miami were highlighted by 112 receptions in 2017 for less than nine yards per reception. Landry insisted his talent was more valuable than serving as a check-down option, but talking to Gase about his concerns wasn’t an option.
"When I’d go to talk to Gase about (expanding my route tree), he’d curse me out," said Landry. "'Why are you telling me how to do my job?' It got to the point where the environment was just awful."
So Landry was traded to the Browns, a destination where Gase reportedly threatened to trade other Dolphins players for poor performances in the past.
In the two years since Landry was traded from Miami to Cleveland, the receiver has seen his yards per catch swell from 10.3 yards in two seasons under Gase to 13.1 in two seasons without him, including a career-high 14.1 yards per receptions in 2019.
DT Jordan Phillips — Phillips was a former second-round selection for Miami in 2015 and was cut by Gase four games into the 2018 season; Gase’s final year with the team. By the end of the 2019 season, Phillips had logged 9.5 sacks last year for the Buffalo Bills, the team that claimed him after he was cut by Miami.
OG Billy Turner — Turner was an early third-round selection for the Dolphins in 2014 and was unceremoniously cut by Gase midway through his third season in Miami, his first under Gase. Turner turned in a bad performance and was cut just days after being the team’s starter on the offensive line. And while Turner’s play has still been up and down in the three years since, he did play well enough as a starter in Denver to command a 4-year $28M contract with the Packers ahead of the 2019 season. Gase gave him away for free.
RB Damien Williams — Williams spent two years under Gase and logged 296 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns over that span. Williams, while still in a complementary role, has logged 754 yards and nine rushing scores in two years in Kansas City. In all, his yards from scrimmage and total touchdowns (13 in two seasons with the Chiefs) doubled as well. What hurts the most about this one? Gase effectively gave Williams the cold shoulder, first telling Williams that Miami intended to bring him back to the team in 2018. But Williams underwent shoulder surgery that offseason and Gase went on that offseason to never return his phone calls, leading him to sign in Kansas City.
“That really hurt,” said Williams. “I was there four years and gave Miami my all. I still have not spoken to him to this day. That hurt me because me and Gase were cool.”
And yet, despite the mismanagement of talent being kicked to the curb in Miami, the players who remained in South Florida after Gase had been relieved of his duties (a decision that prompted reactions from both Landry and Phillips on social media when it was announced) and played under new management in 2019 is an even more damning indictment of Gase as a coach. Four key skill players who were supposed to thrive under Gase in Miami enjoyed their best seasons (by far) as pros in their first season without Gase calling their plays.
QB Ryan Tannehill (w/ Tennessee) — Tannehill’s career revival in Tennessee is well documented. After starting the season as the backup to Marcus Mariota, Tannehill commandeered the Titans offense midway through the year and unlocked the team’s passing game with impressive efficiency. Tannehill posted a 70% completion percentage, tossed a touchdown on 7.7% of his pass attempts, and led the NFL in yards per attempt (9.6) and quarterback rating (117.5). His play under Gase wasn’t necessarily bad from a statistical standpoint, but the Dolphins offense always felt like it was playing with one hand tied behind its back and Tannehill, who endured a relentless pounding under previous head coach Joe Philbin’s watch, was hurt frequently under Gase, missing 24 of a possible 48 starts.
There’s plenty of blame for Tannehill’s tenure in Miami that doesn’t fall at the feet of Gase, but it is also quite convenient that Tannehill is thriving at the first possible stop after getting out from underneath him.
RB Kenyan Drake (w/ Arizona) — Like Tannehill, there’s plenty of blame for why Kenyan Drake never lived up to his potential in Miami that extends beyond Gase. But Gase chose Drake to be his heir to the running back position after the team unceremoniously traded RB Jay Ajayi mid-season in 2017—who was another player Gase discarded because of perceived effort and preparation issues. Drake was supposed to take over the mantle, only for Gase to defer to veteran RB Frank Gore instead. Drake, despite a promising 4.5 yards per carry and plenty of upside in the passing game, started just seven games in 2018 and only rushed the ball 120 times on the season.
Drake struggled to start the year in 2019 without Gase in the picture due to the Dolphins’ stripped-down offensive line that could best be described as “offensive.” But a trade to Arizona allowed Drake to thrive as he surpassed his 2018 rushes in just eight games with the Cardinals and came within a single yard of his previous career high over a full season in those same 8 games (643 yards & eight scores). As it turns out, Drake’s talent has always been there, but his opportunity was not.
WR DeVante Parker — Parker enjoyed a promising second season in 2016 in Gase’s first season, logging 744 yards and four scores over 15 games. But the next two seasons saw Parker spend the vast majority of his time in Gase’s dog house; including one odd stretch that saw the Dolphins leave Parker inactive while Gase claimed he was not fit to play. The assert was met in force by Parker’s agent, Jimmy Gould.
"I find the decision to make DeVante inactive today by Coach Gaze incompetent and insulting," Gould was quoted in a statement.
"It's also just not true and I am sick of hearing him say my player is not healthy. This is the third game this year that DeVante should have played in when you include the Jets and Patriots….What a horrific decision by Coach Gaze and he needs to take a very long look in the mirror and make himself inactive."
Parker stumbled through the final two years of Gase’s tenure without any support from his coach before coming alive in 2019 without Gase’s hands all over the offense, posting career highs in starts (14), targets (128), receptions (72), yards (1,202), and touchdowns (9) under the watch of a more player-friendly coach in Brian Flores.
TE Mike Gesicki — Gesicki is perhaps the best case of mismanagement of talent throughout Gase’s tenure with the Dolphins. Miami drafted Gesicki, a flex tight end from Penn State, with a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and the Dolphins proceeded to line him up with a hand in the dirt of 60% of his snaps his rookie season. On 31% of his reps, he was asked to run block. The Dolphins charged him with pass protection on 20% of his reps as a rookie as well.
It shouldn’t have been this hard. The Dolphins drafted a seam-buster at tight end and asked him to play with his hand in the dirt and block for more than half of his reps as a rookie. It’s no wonder he was Pro Football Focus’ 107th ranked TE in pass protection and 131st ranked TE in run blocking that season.
It’s also no surprise that, with Gase out of the picture, Gesicki magically posted more than double the receptions (51), yards (570), and five more scores in 2019 than he did under Gase in 2018.
Gase’s struggles to manage his team have extended into his tenure with the Jets already after just one season. He botched handling an injury to starting guard Kelechi Osemele that spiraled so violently out of control that Osemele was cut by the end of October in Gase’s first season with the Jets. The relationship fractured in part because Gase went weeks without speaking to one of his starters on offense because “(Osemele) hasn’t asked to speak with me.”
Gase managed to alienate both prized free agents of 2019, RB Le’Veon Bell and LB C.J. Mosley, within his first three months on the job when it became public in the aftermath of the Jets firing GM Mike Maccagnan that Gase did not want to spend the money necessary to sign both players in free agency earlier that offseason.
Things were so bad for Bell last season that the veteran back probably wishes he’d already joined the club and been traded by Gase. During his time in Pittsburgh, Bell was routinely one of the most productive backs in football. He averaged 86.1 rushing yards per game over five years with the Steelers and logged an average of seven rushing touchdowns per season. His 2019 year with the Jets? Bell carried the ball 245 times and averaged 3.2 yards per carry—logging a grand total of 311 total touches for just 4.0 yards per touch and just four total touchdowns. The Jets paid Bell just short of $15 million in cash last season—the first of a four-year, $52M contract.
And now, in a span of eight months, star safety Jamal Adams has gone from expressing his desire to be a “Jet for life” to demanding a trade from the team. It should be a surprise to no one that Gase is reportedly a large reason why.
We have enough of a sample size of who Gase is to know which side of that conflict the Jets should be ready to take. Will they? Or will they simply allow Gase’s growing list of talents to thrive more than ever after moving on from his leadership to include Adams, who is one of the brightest young defensive stars in the game?