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March 21, 2019

Mehta: Jets brass needs to be bold and aggressive and land a leader who knows where the NFL is heading

January 10, 2019

The NFL isn’t for the faint of heart, so if you’re scared to lose, fear the path of greatest resistance or prefer perceived safety, then it’s probably time to pack your bags, find a cabin and chop wood for the rest of your days.

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Smart and innovative decision makers thrive in this cut-throat, bottom-line world by zagging, while the sheep zig. Winners assume risk without being reckless. They separate from the pack with bold, aggressive moves that leave everyone else muttering, “Why didn’t we think of that?”

The Jets have shown us that they’re capable of such creativity with their brilliant trade 10 months ago to position themselves for the franchise quarterback that everyone has wanted for a half-century. So, the proof is there: Christopher Johnson and Mike Maccagnan can do this so long as they keep their feet on the accelerator and think outside the box.

The NFL coaching carousel is Thunderdome. It’s a fast-moving landscape filled with misdirection and smokescreens. Sometimes you get screwed when a top-shelf candidate gets scooped up by another team. Sometimes you laugh at the cluelessness of a team’s hires (see: Packers).

You’ll have a better shot at a face-to-face with Godot than finding the perfect candidate.

He doesn’t exist, but plenty of good choices do.

The Jets are well positioned to land one of three quality candidates who could transform them. Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who is interviewing with Gang Green on Tuesday, former Dolphins coach Adam Gase and Baylor’s Matt Rhule would help this star-crossed franchise.

The Jets need a leader who understands where the NFL is heading, not just where it’s been. Candidates resting on past accomplishments propped up by legendary quarterbacks aren’t good enough.

The Jets have the quarterback in place; now it is time to hire a coach to take Sam Darnold and the rest of the Gang to new heights. (Rick Osentoski / AP)

They need a forward-thinking leader who will bring the best out of Sam Darnold … AND a young, work-in-progress roster.

Monken, the eighth (and perhaps last) person to meet with team brass, offers an intriguing option. His absence-of-fear mantra is contagious. His diversified portfolio (NFL play-caller and college head coach) is appealing. Coaches and players who have worked with him have praised his innovation and leadership traits.

“He’s awesome,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick told the Daily News. “His style of offense is exactly what the NFL is going to now … Really aggressive play-caller. Spread it out. RPOs (run-pass-option). He uses the space on the field. Up tempo. I think it’s a lot of what Sam did in college and stuff that he’s probably going to be good at. To me, he’d be a perfect fit.”

Being a creative schemer is significant, but only part of the equation. Can Monken, who interviewed with the Bengals and was a finalist for the Packers opening before getting edged out by Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, command a team? Can he be the face of a billion-dollar organization?

“The guy lights up the room and garners respect of all the guys,” Fitzpatrick said. “You know he’s around when he walks in a room. That’s an important thing as a head coach to have that presence. It’s not like he’s loud and boisterous and getting in guys faces and trying to fire them up. It’s not that type of personality. He’s got a great wit about him. He’s a commanding presence when he’s around you. Guys listen to him. He gets the best out of guys by the way that he talks and coaches.”

Todd Monken is among a group of innovative minds who would be the type of bold hire the Jets need.
Todd Monken is among a group of innovative minds who would be the type of bold hire the Jets need. (Chris O’Meara / AP)

Monken’s and Gase’s NFL experience certainly can’t hurt, but Rhule has quietly gotten people talking around the league. People on two teams looking for a head coach told me they believe that Rhule is the guy who will ultimately wind up on One Jets Drive.

Rhule, who has transformed two college programs (Temple and Baylor), had a stealth meeting with the Colts for their head coach vacancy last year during recruiting season. He’s dripping with leadership skills. His background coaching both sides of the ball and one year of NFL experience (Giants assistant offensive line coach in 2012) are pluses.

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“College coaches are interesting, because this cycle doesn’t have a lot of no-brainer types,” one general manager said. “I don’t know who that guy is this year. So, if there’s not really that (home-run) candidate, why not dip into college?”

USC offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury was perhaps the most intriguing name of all given his work with a litany of successful college quarterbacks (Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield, Patrick Mahomes, etc.) before he took the Cardinals job on Tuesday.

Johnson and Maccagnan don’t have an infinite amount of time to make their decision. The right coach is out there if they’re willing to be bold and aggressive.

Remember how they landed Darnold in the first place?

They can’t be afraid to fail.

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