In a room thick with media and digital divas, new Jets HC Todd Bowles and newly-minted GM Mike Maccagnan sat at a table with Jets owner Woody Johnson and jumped off the ledge of no return.
At a press conference at the Jets training facility in Florham Park, N.J., The Shadow League was on hand to witness the birth of a new era in Jets football.
Bowles is the African-American, former NFL player turned platinum-plated defensive coordinator, who takes over as HC for the departed Rex Ryan. He introduced his blank stare, serious demeanor and low-key presence to the flashing lights of the Big Apple media rush. Maccagnan, who also met the media for the first time since being hired a week ago, is taking over for former GM John Idzik, whose tenure as Jets executive shot-caller was as bumpy as the old Cyclone at Coney Island and quicker than Billy Hamilton going first to third on a single.
The first thing that struck me while watching the two mild-mannered men sit at the center of an auditorium --facing a crowded room of journalists, photographers and media elite that stretched about 20 rows back -- was that their personalities fit each other.
Maybe it’s because despite being born on opposite sides of the socio-economic tracks, they are both Jersey products. Maccagnan is from Hightstown, about 50 miles south of team headquarters in South Jersey and went to an elite private school (The Peddie School). Bowles is from North Jersey and grew up in Elizabeth, about 19 miles southeast of the facility and was the Jets' secondary coach in 2000.
“To come full circle and come back home it’s a dream come true,” Bowles said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to be here and I just look forward to leading this team.”
So the Jersey connection is firmly entrenched in this new Jets regime. The familiarity with the area will undoubtedly foster an accurate understanding of the temperament and emotional state of the Tri-State area football fan. It will also aid Bowles and Maccagnan in convincing fans to be patient as they attempt to transform a franchise formerly entrenched in embarrassment, empty bravado and unfortunate near-misses, into a silent-but-deadly prideful, perennial winner.
"We have to teach them our culture," Bowles insisted. "Not that the other culture was bad, but it didn't win. Our culture will be to try to instill different things in them from a winning organization's point of view to make us go forward and make the playoffs."
Rex and Idzik were like oil and water. Or Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the Men In Black movies. The Odd Couple even. Rex was the huggable, lovable, big-mouthed bandit and Idzik was portrayed as the clueless suit that constantly got his authority usurped by the flamboyant head coach.
Bowles and Maccagnan have no background with each other. In fact, they didn't meet until Jan. 13, when Maccagnan picked up Bowles at the airport when he arrived for his second interview. But it’s obvious that down the line – in the dog days of December when the pressure to win is at 100 and a month of negative press is a butt fumble away—any butting of heads between the two will be over serious matters and discussed with a modicum of class and analyzed by a sharp and astute brain trust.
Don’t expect to see Bowles making the back page for flipping off a fan or dabbling on foot fetish websites. Players sharing tales of dissension within the ranks seems to be a thing of the past as well.
Silent and deadly is how I would describe the Jets new head honchos. The most common thread between Maccagnan and Bowles is former Texans and Washington Redskins GM Charley Casserly, who was hired by the Jets as a consultant during the concurrent searches. Casserly gave Maccagnan his entry into the NFL, hiring him as a Redskins scout in 1994. Bowles played for the Redskins during the Casserly era. So in essence, if the Jets do become an AFC force again, Jets fans will owe Casserly much of the thanks.
I do credit owner Woody Johnson for finally realizing that his formula and committee of advisors have failed him in the past. Johnson was in a chipper mood on Wednesday and even greeted some of the press, including myself with some small talk after the session. He should get credit for putting his ego aside and seeking the council of a respected outside party.
It may not work out in the end, but Johnson has proved throughout this process that he finally has a direction and a decorum he would like his staff to uphold.
The media will have to dig deeper and work a bit harder to produce shock copy under this new Jets leadership. Unlike Ryan’s bold, headline-snatching introductory press conference in 2009, Bowles wasn’t making any guarantees and he wisely showed great respect for the Patriots rather than boost his own team to a level they haven’t reached yet. The former Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator inherits a Jets team that has missed the playoffs the past four seasons and is coming off a wretched 4-12 campaign with a newbie QB who was egregiously mishandled by the previous coaching staff.
"I'm going to work on getting my own rings," Bowles said. "They're at the top of the division. That's why they're in the Super Bowl. That's something that you're striving to get to, and that's what we're going to work toward."
Humility will serve this new Jets regime well and they will be measured in victories on the field, rather than trending social media hits and amounts of borderline tabloid coverage.
Bowles looked anxious to get on the field and get to work. He wasn’t as comfortable in front of the camera as his predecessor and hardly as superfluous in his answers.
He wouldn’t bite a bit when I asked him what it meant to be the second African-American coach in NY Jets history and mentioned that he was on the top of The Fritz Pollard Alliance’s “Ready For NFL List” for several seasons before getting this opportunity. He said “he understood where I was coming from” but he’s worked long and hard to get this opportunity and I’m sure he didn’t want the headline of the day to be about the color of his skin, but rather “the content of his character” ( to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday and incomparable legacy we celebrate this month).
It’s a character that seems rock solid with experience, league-wide props and championship pedigree to match. While the former Jets regime indulged in lollipop dreams and unrealistic self images, contradictory messages and borderline buffoonery at times, the fans and franchise will always know what they are getting with Bowles. He’s not about the BS.
"We're going to be a tough team. We're going to be an intelligent team. We're going to do things the right way. We're going to try to build a championship team here, and that's my only job."