The New York Jets are working through the process of hiring a new General Manager for the third time this decade. This is a unique opportunity to improve a weak front office and scouting department but similar to the other two searches, there are a few odd components to this search that could make it more of an uphill battle than a traditional GM hire. Let’s take a status check…
After the 2012 season, the Jets fired GM Mike Tannenbaum, who in retrospect looks like easily their best GM of the past 20 years and one of the top three or maybe four in franchise history. They decided to keep Rex Ryan, who at the time was the face of the organization and a fan favorite after back to back brash AFC Championship Game runs in 2009 and 2010. Rex’s act wearing thin and his schemes becoming outdated were ignored and the Jets decided the GM hire would be forced into an arranged marriage with him. Understandably this led them and their “search firm” Korn Ferry to have to settle for a second or third tier option in John Idzik. After an ugly 2014, Idzik was fired after only two seasons.
For the 2015 search, the Jets leaned on a combination of Charley Casserly (who has been more wrong than Casserly?) and Ron Wolf to lead the way, while sticking with their untraditional power structure that would have the Head Coach report to the Owner, alongside the GM. After being denied for interviews by Chris Ballard (to their credit, they targeted the right guy initially), Ryan Pace and George Paton (we will get to him later), they settled on Mike Maccagnan. The decision was well thought of at the time as Maccagnan was a name that had been floating around for a few years as a prospective GM (the Jets actually considered him in 2013 as well).
You know the story with Maccagnan, which has now left the Jets search to be spearheaded by Interim Owner Christopher Johnson, Interim GM Adam Gase and Hymie Elhai who works in business affairs and legal counsel for the organization. Despite an understandable and expected media push to the contrary, it is impossible to think Gase won’t ultimately be driving this ship. A GM who comes here will be wise to demand full roster control, something the Jets appear willing to grant but with the understanding that Gase is going to be more involved than many Head Coaches with his resume and has a reputation for being challenging to work with.
Rumors have been circulating for awhile that the Jets are targeting Joe Douglas, the well respected Vice President of Player Personnel from the Philadelphia Eagles, who shares an agent with Gase and has previously worked alongside him. Of the names under consideration, Douglas has the best reputation and is drawing favorable comparisons to Ballard (this could mean nothing as plenty of times reputations in league circles means nothing) but the resume is encouraging and intriguing.
Douglas came up through the Baltimore Ravens organization working under Ozzie Newsome for one of the NFL’s most consistently successful franchises. After a brief stint in Chicago (where he crossed paths with Gase), he spent the past few years with the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the league’s most progressive thinking teams, who won themselves a Championship only two seasons ago. Moving from a supporting role to a leadership role is a big change and hard to project (similar from a Coordinator moving to Head Coach) but Douglas has been around the type of organizations and thinking that make him considered a top tier candidate.
Outside of Douglas, four other names have surfaced as prospective interview candidates: George Paton, Champ Kelly, Scott Fitterer and Terry Fontenot
Paton is unlikely to take job after declining to interview with the Jets in both 2013 and 2015. He has been a popular name as an up and coming GM candidate for a few years now but has not got over the hump in terms of taking a job away from Minnesota, where he is their Vice President of Player Personnel. There is an expected a surge of GM job openings next offseason and it seems unlikely that Paton is going to change his mind the third time around, especially with Douglas considered the frontrunner.
Kelly is the only other candidate besides Douglas who has experience working with Adam Gase. He is currently the Bears Assistant Director of Player Personnel. Kelly has been in Chicago for five years after spending the previous eight with Denver (he crossed over with Gase in both locations). Kelly received a promotion with Chicago under Ryan Pace, a GM the Jets had previously targeted in 2015.
Fitterer has been with the Seattle Seahawks for what amounts to an eternity in the NFL. He started with the organization as an area scout in 2001, gradually moved to College Scouting Director before settling in as Co-Director of Player Personnel. Seattle has had sustained success this decade, although the Jets were unsuccessful in their last attempt to poach from their front office. Again, it is challenging to project how prospective candidates will do when promoted to a lead role but it is notable (concerning?) that Fitterer has not moved into a GM spot somewhere in all these years and was never a name the team even considered back in 2015 or 2013.
Finally, Terry Fontenot was the last name added to the mix. Somewhat similar to Fitterer, he is a long tenured front office executive (16 years) with a successful organization (New Orleans Saints). He is currently the Saints Director of Pro Scouting and his resume/history skews more to the pro side than Fitterer’s who skews more to the college side.
Ultimately, it feels like Douglas is still the front runner by a decent amount with Kelly as a higher priority fallback than Fitterer or Fontenot. Hopefully, the Jets are clear in their interview process about a delineation of responsibilities between GM and HC, allowing Gase to focus on managing Sam Darnold and running the offense, rather than the whole organization. If the Jets can land Douglas, the bumps in the process may ultimately not matter at all.