As ever, we're thrilled to welcome Brian Bassett - the GodFather of the Jets Blogosphere - back to JetsFix to share his wisdom. Today, he shares with us his Black Monday message for the powers-that-be at Florham Park (and over in London) containing plenty of advice, some of which they've already ignored!
Open Letter to Jets Ownership: Probabilities Lead to Possibilities
Dear Chris and Woody Johnson —
It is Black Monday and the Jets stand at a crossroads … again. Much like astronomers mark the passing of time by the cycles of planets and comets, we fans mark time by the return of yet another executive search and the vow to get this one right. It has been the execution of that vow that’s been the problem, even with outside help.
The last time the Jets were here, elder statesmen Ron Wolf and Charlie Casserley offered their guidance in the search for HC Todd Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan. Prior to that, we saw the hiring of Jed Hughes and Korn Ferry to find John Idzik.
So as we mark another overhaul, I thought it was time for me to volunteer my guidance for any potential retooling of management.
What makes me qualified to offer such input? I don’t have the credentials Ron Wolf or Jed Hughes have, but I have followed this team professionally for more than a decade. My devotion to the Jets and the rise of social media afforded me the chance to closely watch the team and share my opinions with a growing audience since 2004. First from my blog, then AOL, then newspapers and radio outlets from around the nation, then the Jets’ own broadcast partner SportsNet New York as well as one of the most respected publications in American history, the New York Times.
One of the benefits of documenting the team for so long, picking out trends and patterns becomes easier. Since Todd Bowles is already gone, I’ll save any input on that score other than to say THANK YOU.
With that in mind, I offer the following pieces of advice.
Advice #1: Change the reporting structure
Christopher Johnson tells reporters that the Jets’ new head coach will report directly to him. Johnson says the organizational structure won’t change. GM Mike Maccagnan will work closely with Johnson on the search for a new head coach.— Eric Allen (@eallenjets) December 31, 2018
I understand what was said and walking it back now would look bad, but this is a mistake. On the surface fans won’t understand, but this is a clear indication to a new coach that their performance is not tied to Maccagnan and thus already makes Maccagnan look like a one or two-year lame-duck. And now the shotgun marriage of coaches and GMs will continue for at least another four-to-six years. I will happily remind you this was the wrong course when the time inevitably comes.
Advice #2: Upgrade Maccagnan or if not, put him on the clock
Even if it looks bad, this is still the right time to end Maccagnan’s tenure BUT ONLY if the right candidate can be back-channel convinced to take the job. I fully understand the implications of what I am suggesting and how it intersects league protocols on tampering. If the team has a good relationship with the agents of potential upgrade candidates, this should be easy and provide enough plausible deniability. Niccólo Machiavelli’s contemporary Lord Fabrizio states in his rules of war that “no proceeding is better than that which you have concealed from the enemy until the time you have executed it.”
Mike Maccagnan has not done enough to deserve outright firing, but he’s also not done enough to prove irreplaceable. The problem is that this will be an excellent year to fill a general managership, strictly based on the candidates available.
Maccagnan’s best moves have come when he let the draft fall to him. Leonard Williams, Darron Lee, and Jamal Adams are all classic examples of letting the draft play out and taking the best player on the board. Sam Darnold also applies once the Jets traded up to nab the Colts 3rd overall pick. The problems for Maccagnan become more pronounced in middle rounds onward. Devin Smith had the metrics, but was never a dominant player in college. Bryce Petty had the flash, but broke out far too late in college to be a serious consideration as a pro quarterback. Christian Hackenberg broke out early at Penn State, but didn’t have the measurables and never did anything meaningful after his freshman campaign. ArDarius Stewart played in a prolific offense with lots of attention where he finally started compiling stats at the ripe old age of 22.7.
We could continue, but the team’s underwhelming drafting since Maccagnan has taken over betrays their over-reliance on scouting and film grinding. The Jets ignore hallmarks of the analytics community like breakout age, college dominance, height adjusted speed scores and others and how their combinations unlock better positional drafting.
Defenders are quick to point out Maccagnan’s Executive of the Year honors and that his drafts have been better in the last two years. First, the 2015 EOY honor is meaningless when you review the winners since 2010. Second, I won’t argue with the early success of players like Marcus Maye or Chris Herndon, but the problem is that there’s still not been enough of those type of contributors after four seasons. For every Herndon, there’s three Lorenzo Mauldins.
Similarly, while the team has done well in finding undrafted or late round players like Robbie Anderson and Trenton Cannon, the enormity of burden the Trumaine Johnson contract will add to this team over the next two years cannot be understated.
If there is a saving grace for Maccagnan it comes down to two things as Rich Cimini eloquently wrote in his putting the case of Mike Maccagnan. First, Macc didn’t hire Todd Bowles. Second, he did what he needed to get his team in position to draft Sam Darnold.
I completely understand the reasons why the Jets won’t change from Maccagnan, but I am putting forth the reasoning and people they should if they did.
Before I share my favorite candidates, there are three guiding principles which most teams fail to consider in their search:
The Peter Principle is alive and well in NFL front offices - For those unfamiliar, the idea is that inside hierarchies, people tend to rise to their level of incompetence. For example, great salespeople are (often wrongly) turned into sales managers and then falter. It’s why GMs average less than five years in the NFL. It’s why the lifespan of a CIO is roughly the same. Just because someone has done well as a lower level manager or individual contributor doesn’t indicate they are qualified for something higher in the hierarchy or to remain there.
Owners are too biased towards first-time GMs - Inside the Pylon’s Dan Hatman does an incredible job with his annual report on GM searches. While Hatman hesitates to offer hard opinion, he does offer some observations. This nugget and the one following it are two of Hatman’s best. Maybe first-time GMs bring fresh street-level expertise that a retread who has been in exile won’t have, but it also means that teams are creating a market inefficiency by refusing to hire former GMs. It also provides a feedback loop into the Peter Principle. While I certainly wouldn’t want the likes of Dave Gettleman or George Allen running my team, painting all former GMs with the same brush is patently foolish.
Timing with GM hires IS EVERYTHING - There are league executives that the Jets inquired about in the past who either weren’t chosen, or declined to interview. Loyalty, being in the playoffs, or not feeling ready to become GM are all attractive reasons to circle back on those candidates as time passes. Should the Jets twiddle their thumbs and curse their timing?
This doesn’t have to be that hard
Picking talent in the NFL doesn’t have to be hard. As insane as it sounds, if I were GM I feel confident that if I could use the existing Jets scouting staff (around film grinding, character and security intel) and overlay their work with a few analytics folks like Bent, Shawn Siegele, Matthew Freedman, Kevin Cole, Josh Hermsmeyer and Matt Kelley as consultants, I could field a more talented team than Maccagnan has been able to deliver. Not because I am competent, but because the above analysts are that good.
If the Jets executives choose to retain Maccagnan then so be it, but at least create a set of goals and a timetable to hit them as an out-working of this re-setting of the coaching staff.
With those thoughts in mind, here’s my four top candidates the Jets should be pursuing.
Sashi Brown Unemployed, former Cleveland Browns EVP of Football Operations
Timing: As far as I know, Sashi Brown is available as he hasn’t worked since his firing by the Browns just over a year ago. While it is unclear if Brown wants to return to the NFL, his long history in the sport with the Jaguars and Browns is an indication that if suitors came calling he would entertain them.
Analysis: I am never going to hold it against someone that they were fired by Jimmy Haslam. Haslam has a long list of problems, but one of his biggest is that he didn’t have the courage of his convictions to let Brown see his plan through. Thanks to Brown’s maneuvers, Cleveland built up more draft picks and young talent to see a turnaround through, despite the job that GM John Dorsey has done in under a year tearing at the seams. Brown will go down in history as the NFL’s version of Sam Hinkie.
Despite Sashi Brown’s removal, his legacy is living on and gaining traction in the form of Paul DePodesta. According to reports, Dorsey’s star is already fading, while DePodesta is gaining influence. The conjecture here is that it was DePodesta not Dorsey who was responsible for the Browns drafting Baker Mayfield.
Sashi Brown’s had strengths as a GM that had nothing to do with talent evaluation and everything to do with his ability to see market inefficiencies (like his brilliant Brock Osweiler trade) and to hire competent people like DePodesta. In the public eye, Brown will never get the proper credit he is due for his work with the Browns — he was able to put together a plan that allowed the current regime to reap the success we are now seeing with this Cleveland team.
George Paton Minnesota Vikings — Assistant GM
Timing: Up until now, Paton has been fiercely loyal to Vikings GM Rick Spielman, also working with him in Miami and Chicago and Paton has repeatedly turned down interviews over the years. The Jets were rumored to be interested in Paton the year they wound up hiring John Idzik. Last season while in the playoffs, the Vikings denied Paton a chance to interview with the Packers. Now, Jason LaCanfora reports that Paton is interested in finding a team to manage and the Miami Dolphins might have the inside track.
Analysis: Paton is my first choice for the Jets if they were to do some covert operations around replacing their GM. The problem is just how interested might Paton be in replacing Mike Maccagnan? Paton was a key part in creating one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. While Miami seems to be the likely location for Paton to land with the indications the Dolphins will have an opening with the imminent firing of Mike Tannenbaum. Paton worked in Miami, but for a different ownership group. How much would returning to Miami actually matter to him? My hope would be not enough to prevent him from seeing the gut-job that lies ahead of him in Miami. Maccagnan has already set the table for Paton, not to mention the merits of having Sam Darnold, and a viable defensive core already in place.
Update: Tannenbaum was re-assigned this morning.
Duke Tobin Cincinnati Bengals — Director of Player Personnel
Timing: While he doesn’t hold the title, Tobin is by all accounts the de facto GM for Marvin Lewis. Up until now, like Paton, Tobin has deferred interest from other clubs. That said, the Bengals power structure could be about to have some massive shifts. Rumors are that Marvin Lewis will decide for himself when he’s done and he might even pick who gets to follow him in a transition into an upper management role. It might also be that Lewis walks away. With as much power as Lewis has wielded historically, a new structure might cause major changes and so this might be Tobin’s best opportunity of finding a new team.
Update: Lewis was fired this morning.
Analysis: A former quarterback, Tobin comes from a pedigreed football family and has been with the Bengals for just under 20 years. While the Bengals have not been able to make much noise in the playoffs, their problems seem to have come from the team’s coaching as opposed to its level of talent. In the last decade and a half, they’ve boasted top cornerbacks, receivers, defensive and offensive lines. While they’ve played fast and loose with players with known “character concerns,” Tobin knows how to mine talent.
Other names to consider: The Jets were interested in Trent Kirchner in their last GM search. Kirchner has been a constant in the Seattle front office, allowing the team to re-tool on the fly around the now-famous Russell Wilson team pivot. Joe Douglas from the Eagles would be another compelling candidate based on his success. Eliot Wolf has the bloodlines, experience and innovative approach that a team the like Jets badly needs in the front office. More candidates can be found here. Nick Caserio would be compelling, but fraught with all the baggage of bringing a Patriot executive and wind up being a mess.
Advice #3: Find an innovative offensive head coach, or at a minimum someone who will stay the f--- out of the way
I get the history of having a gritty defensive minded coach running the New York Jets. There’s something to it, otherwise the Jets wouldn’t have hired six of them dating back to Rich Kotite. The problem is that all the expansion is happening on the offensive side of the ball.
Defensive minded coaches tend to take the air out of the football, grind opponents with their running game, and lose when they need a two-minute drill to tie or pull ahead. If my history with the Jets and watching the NFL has proven anything it is that coaches take too few risks and defensive minded coaches are far and away the more risk-averse group.
Scoring is up this year and so are ratings. Owners will only enact more rules that extend increased viewership. Due to the efficiency of the pass over the run, rules changes to protect offensive players, and college concepts like the Air Raid and RPO leaking into the NFL … the league will only trend more offensive.
Passing more leads to more wins. Aaron Schatz started Football Outsiders to fight the notion that running leads to wins. Sites like Rotoviz are dedicated to sharing how data science can help teams win football games, but by and large they get this reaction from football insiders:
Sorry, but the data doesn’t lie.
Defense certainly helps win championships, but not at the cost of being unable to make first downs or having a QBs who can flirt with a 70% completion rate or push past an Average Depth of Target (aDOT) of 8.0 yards.
Media and fans get it wrong when they worship coaches like Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan. Remember what a hot coaching commodity Adam Gase was? How did that work out? Like McVay, Bill Belichick and Sean Payton have shown, coaches are at their best when they actively work to fit their scheme to their talent. As Dirk Koetter and Steve Wilks proved, coaches are at their worst when they bury talented players or fail to use them to their strengths.
After years of “system” football under Mangini, Ryan and now Bowles … I’d just be happy for a coach who didn’t actively interfere with the team’s talent.
John Harbaugh — HC Baltimore Ravens Archetype: Executive officer
Analysis: Harbaugh’s success is evident in his Super Bowl victory, despite being anchored by Joe Flacco for years. As a former special team coordinator, Harbaugh exerts his influence in the weekday meeting rooms and against the refs after each and every penalty as opposed to impeding his coordinators and talent at every turn. Harbaugh is the embodiment of “first, do no harm” coaching which I have come to admire.
The Ravens post-season berth increases the likelihood Harbaugh returns. But there are NFL teams interested in him and it is unclear whether Harbaugh wants to return after this season with GM Ozzie Newsome heading into retirement. The Ravens floated a potential extension with Harbaugh as a scare tactic over the last month … or at a minimum a way to extract a draft pick or two from another interested club. While I’m not a coach worshipper, John Harbaugh would be worth more to this organization than a another failed Maccagnan draft pick like Lorenzo Mauldin, Christian Hackenberg, or ArDarius Stewart have.
Matt Campbell — HC Iowa State Archetype: Young offensive hotshot
Analysis: Two separate outlets have encouraged the Jets interest in Matt Campbell, which is interesting or at the very least noteworthy. Campbell might be more of the executive officer archetype based on his ability to organize, prepare and motivate but at 39 years old and with a history of offensive coaching he’ll land more into the “hotshot” category. Campbell might have a challenging transition bringing his disciplined approach to the pro ranks, but at 39 years old the hope is that he’s adaptable enough to intuit how to motivate pro players. Campbell’s enthusiasm, organization, offensive coaching history might make for a good fit for Sam Darnold in Florham Park.
Update: Campbell has declined an interview with the Jets (and multiple other NFL teams).
John DeFilippo — Unemployed Archetype: Young offensive hotshot
Analysis: DeFilippo was a hot candidate entering the season, but he was scapegoated by the Vikings which may slow potential interest in him as a head coach. Six weeks ago he was considered a hot coaching candidate, so front offices put off by this are overreacting. Maybe the Vikings failings have more to do with Kirk Cousins than DeFilippo? DeFilippo was helpful last year to Carson Wentz and Nick Foles as Philadelphia QB coach and impressed with Pettine’s staff in Cleveland. DeFilippo also has some ties to the Jets — he was their assistant QB coach in in 2009 and was denied an interview request two years ago when the Jets were looking for a new offensive coordinator.
Dan Campbell — TE Coach New Orleans Saints Archetype: Executive officer
Analysis: As of Monday morning the Packers and Browns had been in touch with the Saints to ask about Campbell’s availability. The Jets would be wise to jump into the fray, but might have a tough sell since Green Bay comes with Aaron Rodgers and Cleveland has the one young QB with more attention right now than Sam Darnold.
Campbell acted as the interim head coach for the Dolphins in 2015 going 5-7 after Joe Philbin’s disastrous 1-3 start. Campbell has helped Sean Payton refresh the New Orleans offense and has been able to watch how one of the best run front office and coaching staff operates for three years. The biggest question about Campbell is his ability to assemble a coaching staff.
Todd Monken — OC Tampa Bay Buccaneers Archetype: Offensive-minded coach
Analysis: Monken is not a household name, but he’s bounced from the college and pros over his career and has seen the ways which college football has infused the pro game and he might be one of the most deserving OCs to get called up to a head coaching gig. While I won’t hold Monken’s inability to mature Jameis Winston as a quarterback, his command of the Bucs offense made them one of the most potent passing games in the NFL in 2018, regardless of whether it was Jameis Winston or Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the team.
Dave Toub — ST Coordinator Kansas City Chiefs Archetype: Executive officer
Analysis: Toub was in the mix last year for the Colts opening and has proven himself as one of the top special teams coaches working in a successful coaching tree. John Harbaugh had the same history under Andy Reid before becoming the respected coach we see him as today. Toub interviewed for the Chargers and Broncos openings in 2017 and has also interviewed with the Dolphins and Bears before that.
Eric Bienemy — OC Kansas City Chiefs Archetype: Executive officer
Analysis: A long-time assistant at the college and pro ranks, this is Bienemy’s first year as a coordinator which gives me serious pause and has the feel of a coaching trap. The success of the Kansas City offense has a lot more to do with Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce than it does Bienemy. It might be that Bienemy can follow the track of Anthony Lynn, another long-time running backs coach who has had success as a head coach, but the big difference is that Lynn came to the Chargers with a player-coach at QB already in place in Philip Rivers.
Chatter on other coaches
Jim Harbaugh was someone the Jets were said to have internal discussions on, but I don’t see Harbaugh leaving Michigan for the Jets. Even if he did, has Harbaugh stayed anywhere longer than five years? Kris Richard was diligenced by Jets upper management as a replacement to Rex Ryan in New York prior to his final season. Richard’s star has faded after his days working with the Legion of Boom, but a solid year from the Cowboys defense has revived his head coaching appeal.
In the end, the Jets need to consider how they’ve gotten here, but also use the mouthwatering talent of Sam Darnold as bait to entice potential coaches and general managers in the coming years.
As of Monday afternoon I can see that there are some lessons taking root, like the interest in Todd Monken. I also see the opportunity for future peril, with requests for candidates like Eric Bienemy and Kris Richard. Both might make great coaches, but the Jets might not be the right fit. Without the right coordinators on offense, Bienemy and Richard could be setting themselves up for this cycle all over again in a few years time. The Jets were convinced Todd Bowles was the right man for the job, just as they were convinced Rex Ryan and Eric Mangini were right before that.
Better process in those two areas will drive higher possibilities of success through better probabilities in play-calling and talent evaluation.
Football doesn’t have to be hard.
Brian A. Bassett