Had they not spent the past four years with the defensive-minded Todd Bowles, the New York Jets would’ve been well-off with Kris Richard.
Can you really talk football until you’ve uttered the phrase “defense wins championships”? The go-to phrase for amateur analysts throughout the football-loving nation, the axiom was first coined by Alabama football legend Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Lately, however, this wisdom is slowly making the transition to myth, as the NFL becomes an offense-oriented league, ruled by a deity called fantasy football. Three-hundred-yard games from quarterbacks have become as routine as a coin toss. Big catches from receivers and dodgy dashes from running backs frequently dominate the evening highlight shows. Even officials have seemed to buy into the transition, as the slightest dirty look toward a quarterback or a receiver grants the so-called victim 15 free yards. The most recent Super Bowl saw a team score 33 points, tallying 613 yards … and lose.
The New York Jets tried to win by the adage for the past four seasons, employing Todd Bowles as their head coach for the past four seasons. If anyone knew about defense winning championships, it was he, the Elizabeth, NJ native. In his second NFL season, the undrafted Bowles partook in one of the most one-sided efforts in Super Bowl history, as his Washington Redskins stifled the mighty Denver Broncos by a 42-10 final. Bowles, a starter on a power Washington defense, had five tackles and helped limited John Elway to a mere 163 yards after two early successful drives. Bowles would later carry on his intellect as an assistant coach in the league, a 14-year trek that culminated with Assistant Coach of the Year honors for his work with the Arizona Cardinals’ defense in 2014.
Bowles parlayed that success into the Jets’ top gig in 2015. Let’s just say there’s a reason they’re looking for a new coach four years later.
Bowles tried to reintroduce a brand of smashmouth into the changing league landscape, priding himself on strong defensive performances. That strategy paid off in the early stages of his tenure, as the Jets opened the Bowles era on a 10-5 output. In half of those wins, the Jets’ defense allowed two touchdowns or fewer. Even as the strategy started to flounder, management acquiesced to Bowles’ vision, their early draft selections featuring a heavy defensive flavor. Sam Darnold’s drafting in April marked the first time the Jets used their premiere pick on an offensive player since 2009.
The defense-first strategy proved unsustainable. New York went 14-35 for the remainder of his stay. Expected staples failed to pan out, and opponents racked up the points. Bowles’ supervision ending with a healthy dose of defensive letdowns seemed all too appropriate. As Darnold began to awaken the offense from a long slumber, the Jets were done in by failures to stop.
That was most prevalent in the Jets’ penultimate game of the 2018 campaign, a game that saw Darnold earn infantile career-highs with 341 yards and three touchdowns. Alas, the defense allowed Aaron Rodgers to throw for 442 yards of his own, helping a 35-20 fourth quarter Jets lead become a 44-38 overtime win for the Green Bay Packers.
With the league’s offensive boon showing no signs of letting up, the Jets need to adapt after spending four years watching. With a touted first-round quarterback making matters all the more delicate, the Jets can ill-afford to take chances with an outside-the-box hire. Fourteen wins over a three-year stretch don’t allow for breaking the mold, especially when it comes to hiring the coach that will oversee the maturation of the aforementioned Darnold
Thanks to this failure, the Jets might miss out on Kris Richard, one of the NFL’s most unique head coaching candidates.
Richard is one of several candidates up for the Jets’ coaching vacancy, interviewing for the job on Sunday. Currently, his fate is entwined with the Dallas Cowboys, who are in the midst of a playoff trek that continues on Saturday in Los Angeles (8:15 p.m. ET, Fox). The Cowboys’ active 8-1 stretch has given Richard a unique edge on his competitors, helping take a much-maligned unit and turning them into one of the team’s biggest strengths.
For years, Dallas had been a team loaded with offensive talent but unable to prevent big plays late. Richard has bucked that trend as the team’s defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator, and the Cowboys have a decent chance of reaching the NFC title game for the first time in over two decades. Under his watch, several defenders have enjoyed breakout seasons, namely newly minted All-Pro and Pro Bowler Byron Jones.
Prior to the dramatics in Dallas, Richard gave perhaps the most public admonishment of offensive domination at MetLife Stadium of all places. Following head coach Pete Carroll from the University of Southern California to the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, Richard spent the early part of the new decade looking for the smartest defensive minds and hardest hitters. His final concoction became known as the “Legion of Boom”, a group of secondary defenders headlined by Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor, among others. The group’s magnum opus came in Super Bowl 48 when they harassed a historic, Peyton Manning-led offense from Denver in a 43-8 Seattle blowout.
Richard’s defensive tendencies and exploits make him stand out from other candidates. But, in this desperate period on the Jets’ timeline, he’s not the right man for them at this time.
The Jets’ primary goal for the near future has to be the development and maturation of Darnold. The days of the dominant defense are endangered at best. Winning a Super Bowl with 244 yards of offense, something the Baltimore Ravens did as recently as 2001, seems ludicrous in today’s NFL, and the Jets have to remedy that. If Richard is somehow left behind in the coaching craze of 2019, the Jets should reach out about defensive coordinator duties, but the team needs to shift its focus at the top.
New York’s best source of leadership, in fact, could come from the guys who suit up on Sundays. Safety Jamal Adams, for example, has become a mouthpiece for the future, the Jet most vocal about ending the team’s seemingly endless streak of futility. Other young, yet experienced defenders include linebacker Avery Williamson and defensive lineman Leonard Williams, the latter being one of the few puzzle pieces of Bowles’ championship picture that truly fit.
Even at 39, juvenile in the realm of NFL coaching, Richard has paid his dues and proved himself in this league. Reclamation projects in Seattle and Dallas speak for themselves, his defensive heroics being a showstopping outlier in the endless world of yardage and points. If there’s any justice in football, he’ll get a chance to operate his own team soon enough, perhaps in the likewise-open AFC East slot in Miami.
But, floundering in the depth of the league over the past three years (only San Francisco and Cleveland have posted worse records), the Jets can’t afford to give him that opportunity.