In the beginning, back in March, this was a genuine thing. March is often the cruelest time to be a college basketball coach, especially one who’s strung some losing seasons together. And yet, as the virus started striking down one sport after another, it felt inappropriate to even talk about something as crass as firing a coach.
Some, truly, were spared. This was an athletic director talking to me in late March. He’d been expecting to spend his Final Four sifting through candidates for his plum opening. Instead, he had quietly assured his coach that he would not be going anywhere.
“Time and place,” the AD told me. “This isn’t the time. And maybe there are other places where you can conduct business as usual, but our campus isn’t one of them.”
It was a quaint and hard-to-argue point at the time. But, life being what it is, as the games returned so did consequences. When the NBA and NHL finished, plenty of coaches got fired. In college football, it took Southern Mississippi one game to fire its coach, Jay Hopson. Baseball managers have been let go now. And in the last two weeks both the Falcons and Texans have fired their coaches.
Business as usual.
Well … except somehow, Adam Gase is still the coach of the Jets. And it is impossible not to wonder something when you consider that improbability: somehow, the wicked new ways of the world, inspired by COVID-19, have spared him. This isn’t about appropriateness any longer – not one person would shed a tear about Gase being dismissed in the midst of a pandemic. He would earn his axe on merit. An abundance of it.
But it does seem that the Jets exist in a world right now where they are immune from consequence. This isn’t to say that public opinion should always – or even ever – determine if a coach or a manager should be fired. But there is a difference between an organization lending a deaf ear to its fans.
And something else when it trolls them.
So here is a question for you: the Jets have now played three home games in 2020, each more egregious than the one before: an absolute no-show against a 49ers team that just lost by 26 points to Miami, which is where the Jets will be spending their coming weekend. A hideous botch job against the Broncos, who were also winless, and just as depleted. And a grotesque 30-10 study in non-competitiveness against the Cardinals last Sunday.
Now ask yourself this:
What if this was a normal year, and the Jets would have done all of this in front of the weary eyes – and revved-up voiceboxes – of disgusted, disgruntled fans? What if there were 75,000 (or, more realistically given the Jets’ history with no-shows, even 50,000) oiled-up Jets fans directing all of their venom at the man in the hat with his head buried in his Denny’s menu of play-calls?
What if this had come following week after week of meek Gase excuses like his old stand-by, “I wish you could see how good we look in practice!” As if the Jets offense beating up on the Jets’ horrific defense (courtesy of wildly overrated Gase sidekick Greg Williams) and the Jets’ defense looking like the ’85 Bears against Gase’s clueless offense on Wednesdays and Thursdays is some kind of consolation prize.
How do you think MetLife would sound then?
And more to the point:
How would the Jets as an organization react if their business, if their bottom line, was about to be adversely affected because of Gase’s continued employment? Would it make a difference then? Maybe not: Christopher Johnson, a generally pleasant fellow, does seem to have a great deal of loyalty to Gase, for whatever reason. And the fact is, this is a season where everyone who fields a team, in any sport, realizes the bottom line is going to look like bath time. That’s just the reality of the time.
Still, there was a time when Leon Hess swore he would not fire Rich Kotite, Gase’s spiritual antecedent, even as the team compiled a 1-15 record that, until now, stood as rock bottom in a Jets history littered with attempts at defining rock bottom. But even he finally reached an end: the verbal butcherings, followed by the silence of empty seats. He mercy-fired Kotite before he could reach the ’96 finish line.
Maybe Gase will last until 0-11 or 0-12. Maybe he gets the whole year. And Jets fans have proven to be a forgiving lot across the empty decades: they’ll probably be back. But right now one thing is clear: their overwhelming opinion falls on deaf ears in the Jets’ corporate offices. And there isn’t a thing they can do beyond stewing about it.
Lifeless team, voiceless fans. A perfectly matched set.