When I attended Todd Bowles’ first press conference at the Jets training facility in Florham Park, N.J. in January of 2015, the atmosphere was much more serious than when Rex Ryan strutted to the mic six seasons earlier, cracking jokes, exuding bravado, challenging and clowning the Patriots off the rip.
The Jets first-year head coach doesn’t get down like that. As one of just five African-American NFL head coaches and the first “new” hire in some time, he doesn’t have that luxury. Ryan’s white for one, and his dad Buddy was a legendary defensive coach. He grew up in the game and was streamlined for the opportunities and success he has had as an NFL HC. When he couldn’t get the job done with the Jets, he hadn’t even packed his suitcase to leave town when Buffalo came calling and offered him the keys to the franchise. He was still happy-go-lucky-Rex. The coach that had a tattoo of his QB Mark Sanchez and admitted to being a member of a foot fetish website along with his wife. The guy that wasn’t afraid to let his lips rip. A HC that wasn’t afraid of the Patriots Dark Dynasty and even beat them a handful of times, but never when it truly counted.
Bowles isn’t that guy. He’s serene and serious in nature. Most importantly, he’s humble and let’s just call a spade a spade; brothers in high leadership positions who lack a certain degree of humility (some call it strong willed as in the case of Mark Jackson and others call it arrogance) don’t last long.
Gang Green's rookie HC appears to set parameters with his players and never presents himself as anything other than all business to the media. This may not be true, but he also seems more serious about his job than Rex Ryan did and mentally committed to the team and the task first. His public standing will be determined by the number of wins he accumulates and his ability to bring a Super Bowl championship to the Jets for the first time since 1969. Words such as “fan favorite” and “entertaining” won’t be used to describe Bowles’ tenure as a Jets coach. If everything goes according to his plan, “winner” will be the way he goes out.
At that initial press conference, Bowles impressed me when he said:
"We have to teach them (holdover players of Rex Ryan regime) our culture. "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."
They'll be no butt fumbles on his watch.
Bowles is no court jester. He represents a small brotherhood of black coaches who are given short leashes when it comes to turning a franchise around and securing a long-term future with a team. He wasn’t fathered-into the game. He is a hometown product, having been born in Elizabeth, New Jersey and had to pay some serious dues to get his opportunity. Bowles attended Temple University and then played in the NFL for eight seasons with the Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers.
After retiring as a player, his long journey to HC began. Bowles was a member of the Green Bay Packers' player personnel staff from 1995–1996. He was the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Morehouse College in 1997, and the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Grambling State from 1998–1999. He was the defensive backs coach for the New York Jets in 2000, Cleveland Browns in 2004, and Dallas Cowboys from 2005–2007. He was the Browns' defensive nickel package coach from 2001–2003. He coached for the Dolphins and then the Philly Eagles and then was defensive coordinator in Arizona (2013-14) before getting a chance to grapple in the Rotten Apple (or right next door...whatever).
Other than the pressure of upholding family tradition, Ryan has no pressures as he mires in mediocrity with a hopeless 6-8 Bills team. His losing record with Buffalo is no different from his 18-30 record over the last three seasons of his six-year Jets run. His career is like one big party. He’s the jolly, fat guy in the middle of the dance floor, who has everybody standing around him and getting hyped early in the night. But once he throws up all over this fine girl’s hot pink tights, he has to run out of the club and try his act on another audience.
Although he refused to acknowledge it at the press conference, Bowles’ success or lack thereof will affect the fate of future African-American candidates. He hasn’t coached a game this season that doesn’t impact every potential African-American coaching candidate on Fritz Pollard Alliance’s "Ready List for NFL" highlighting minority candidates who they feel meet the qualifications for HC or coordinator positions.
Whether we want to admit it or not, Blacks are still fighting prejudice and biased hiring practices in positions of leadership on every level of athletics from college to the pro ranks. The African-American pipeline to leadership jobs is still being built by guys such as Houston Texans GM and Executive Vice President Rick Smith and Bowles, who has stone cold ambitions to join Tony Dungy and Pittsburgh Steelers HNIC Mike Tomlin as a Super Bowl-winning brother.
To make a long story short -- and in the paraphrased words of Hip-Hop historian, orator and Godfather KRS 1 -- Bowles doesn’t have time to mess around, nor does he "F" around and this season teams can tell by the bodies that are left around. At 9-5 and in the playoff mix, a talent-defunct Jets team is thriving under Bowles’ controlled and focused leadership. He’s meticulous in approach and he’s changed that Jets circus atmosphere into a respectable blue-collar organization. One whose future and story isn’t written by a hustler who flips fans the bird and thinks he’s the show. A self-centered, camera hog who sat in the back of the classroom and shot spitballs at the girls.
Bowles is that dude who sat in the front and never spoke unless spoken to, but he absorbed everything and even when he got passed over for jobs he was more than qualified for, he continued to be the consummate company man, never selling his soul, but rather letting his performance paint the color of his character which is now truly Jets green.