Every head coach faces unexpected events which shake up their football team however with first the Sheldon Richardson issues and now the injury to Geno Smith, Todd Bowles has certainly been tested more than some in his rookie off season. Despite the fact that the Jets are once again front page news for the wrong reasons, even making the BBC Sports news over here in the UK (which sadly only ever reports negative NFL stories), Bowles has stuck to his guns throughout this trying time; keeping his cool and staying true to his aims.
Predictably however, there have been a number of criticisms leveled at Bowles in relation to these issues, mainly from the outside of the fan base and some from mainstream NFL media outlets. The most unbelievable accusation is that Bowles ‘let’ these things happen. He ‘let’ Sheldon Richardson drive at 140+ mph with a child in the car and then he ‘let’ IK punch Geno. This seems to wholly ignore that the players involved are grown men who are fully responsible for their own actions. Other criticisms focus on Bowles’ leadership and the culture he is building. Some have suggested that he is a archetypal great assistant coach who isn’t suited to the next level role. Others have argued that he clearly hasn’t managed to develop the new accountability culture he claims to be instilling. We take a look at why we believe these criticisms to be unfounded and why these are not the ‘Same Old Jets’.
From both his actions and words it’s hard to see how Todd Bowles could have better handled the cards he was dealt. Getting rid of IK immediately, a player with plenty of upside, was important to show that “we will not tolerate this type of behaviour,” was more than just empty words. He has also showed clear understanding of the different nature of the issues, focusing on the importance of helping the man rather than focusing on football when it comes to Richardson but being ‘pissed off’ at the ridiculousness of ‘Jawgate’. In both situations Bowles has been honest, in some ways brutally about his views.
He hasn’t tried to defend the actions of his players saying that “It’s hard to say someone is a good guy when they do this (although he is a good guy)”, about Richardson and describing the IK/Geno affair as a disagreement that “sixth graders could have resolved”. Although clearly angry at the situation in his press conferences, Todd was measured and open in his responses, saving his wrath for those who need to hear it, the team, not the press. Some have questioned whether this measured approach is one issue in his management which has led to such issues and he has been asked about why he seems to take controversy in his stride. However, the first rule of teaching is that you only raise your voice when you really need to else it becomes ineffective and there is no doubt Todd bawled out the team following the Geno incident:“It’s too many expletives to come out and say right here in public, but we talked about it in depth and I kind of stood my ground. They understand where I’m coming from and we’ll go from there.”
Relating to his wider leadership style, Bowles was clear from his arrival about the culture he wished to instill and despite events to the contrary he has not shied away from this: “I know what I signed up for. This is the NFL we’re not in needling class”. Making the team run sprints after a poor practice is just one tactic employed to develop work ethic and he has been unflinching in his analysis of poor play: “sloppy tackles” and “looking sluggish” were used to describe the lacklustre performance against Detroit. There is no hyperbole here. The fact that he has refused to guarantee Geno’s starting position depending on Fitz’s forthcoming performances speaks to his commitment to performance rather than PR.
Bowles is also realistic that he stills needs time to instill his regime and that everything is not rosy:
‘We are going to take some body blows. You’re going to have some adversity. It’s how you play, work and learn from it that you go on but ‘It’s not going to happen over night’.He believes that the current issues have made him stronger and given more opportunity to lay down the law saying ‘It makes them understand the rules clearer and hopefully they learn from other people’s mistakes’. Bowles holds his veterans accountable, believing that they should ‘police the locker room’ but also said ‘I don’t care who you are,’ highlighting his zero tolerance approach. Nick Mangold rued the fact that the actions of a few has tainted the reputation of what is a strong and together locker room and this is proof that the culture is becoming more positive.
Todd Bowles has a clear intention to improve this team and even though these cases which blur this publicly have rocked the boat, he still seems unfazed and unwilling to change the path taken, freely identifying weaknesses and areas to develop. The ‘what would Rex do?’ is a natural progression for this conversation and it’s not difficult to assume the press conferences would have been rather different. Perhaps unsurprisingly, IK has quickly found himself a home in Buffalo. It seems that Rex is intent on continuing the ‘old Jets’ approach with the Bills, which we as we know have both succeeded and failed. Under Bowles, due to the misjudged actions of some, a media circus has once again arrived at Florham Park but the response of the head coach means it doesn’t quite seem like the ‘Same Old Jets’ anymore. Despite some pretty big waves, Bowles is still managing to steer the ship on a steady course for now.