Taking Pages: How Adam Gase’s Journey Made Him Wise Beyond His Years
Adam Gase, age 37, has been named the new head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Upon accepting this title, he has become the youngest head coach in the NFL. Yes, even younger than Dan Campbell.
Many would see Gase’s age, and wonder how he could be qualified to hold the job title of NFL Head Coach. However, both his early start and meteoric rise led to a long list of qualifications and positions that made Tannenbaum, Ross, and Grier feel that he has the ability to hold this position.
The Beginning: Serves as an Undergraduate Assistant to Nick Saban
Adam Gase never played college football. However, he probably learned more about football in his four collegiate years than most NFL prospects learn in their time on the field.
Gase served as an undergraduate assistant for Nick Saban during his time at Michigan State. Saban, notorious for his rough exterior and vicious coaching style, took Gase under his wing.
How do we know that Saban saw something special in Gase? He was the only assistant that Saban brought over when he went from Michigan State to LSU.
Saban later stated, “It was a conceptual thing with Adam. He just understood how things worked, and he was willing to work and he started from ground zero.” These words toward Gase speak volumes about his true potential as a coach.
Gase did not simply memorize Saban’s strategies. He actually took the time to absorb Saban’s philosophy, and the concepts behind his strategies. “Those kind of guys you grow and develop. They see big picture more than some guys who have to grind to know it and memorize things.”
He was not forced to become a Saban disciple. Instead, he added Saban’s theories and concepts to his binder, with plenty of space between the rings to expand his knowledge under another coach.
The Next Level: Gase’s First NFL Job, With the Detroit Lions
When the NFL came calling, Adam Gase did not hesitate to pick up the phone.
He was first brought up as a scouting assistant, and his role at that position is fairly unclear. It is also difficult to tell who exactly decided to reel him out of the college ranks, but one can assume it had something to do with then Lions head coach Steve Mariucci. The ex-49ers coach eventually brought Gase up to the position of offensive assistant.
When Mariucci was fired, head coach Rod Marinelli decided to bring in offensive guru Mike Martz to control that side of the ball. Martz looked through the staff, and saw a very valuable individual at the offensive assistant post. He decided to name Adam Gase his quarterbacks coach.
“He was like 25, here’s this kid [that] didn’t play football, I was overwhelmed by his knowledge and passion for the game, how smart he was,” Martz later stated about his young fellow coach. These are words of high praise from a man who was himself an offensive genius in the NFL.
Martz was the architect of the “Greatest Show on Turf”, with Marshall Faulk, Tory Holt, and Kurt Warner, which revolutionized the NFL. They set records, and shattered expectations en route to a Super Bowl victory.
While Gase obviously was not working with Martz in St. Louis, he was able to gain an inside look at the concepts and coaching strategies employed by the man who implemented the Greatest Show On Turf.
Saban. Mariucci. Marinelli. Martz. The binder of Adam Gase was slowly filling up.
Moving West: San Francisco 49ers (2008)
After the 2007 season, Mike Martz became the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. He brought Gase with him, but this time as an offensive assistant.
Gase worked with Martz under head coach Mike Nolan, who was eventually relieved of his duties in favor of Mike Singletary, who cleaned house later that year.
Adam Gase unfortunately got caught in the crossfire here. He learned what a harsh business the NFL can be. His head coach was fired, and by the end of the season, the interim decided to rid the team of its entire staff. Singletary would later be fired as the 49ers head coach.
Hard Work Pays Off: Mike Nolan Brings Gase to Denver
Adam Gase was 31-years old, and had just been fired from his job as an offensive assistant with he 49ers. However, the circumstances that would arise from this uncomfortable situation for Gase ended up changing his life.
Patriots’ offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, was brought in to be the head coach of the Denver Broncos. As his offensive coordinator, McDaniels brought over Mike McCoy. As his defensive coordinator, McDaniels brought over Mike Nolan, Gase’s ex-head coach.
Nolan had enough confidence in Gase to advocate on his behalf to Mike McCoy, who hired him as the wide receivers coach.
So yes, Gase has experience as the positional coach for two units. He coached Brandon Marshall and Jabar Gaffney, both receivers topping 50 catches and 700 yards. Marshall actually had 100 catches for over 1100 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The next season, Josh McDaniels was fired as the Broncos’ head coach during the season, and Eric Studesville finished out the season as the interim.
In 2011, John Fox took the reigns in Denver. He decided to retain Mike McCoy, one of his ex-assistants in Carolina, as the offensive coordinator. McCoy obviously kept Gase on the staff, but promoted him to the position of quarterbacks coach.
During that season, Gase would play a major role in what became a sensation that will live on forever in NFL lore: Tebow Time.
Together, Gase and McCoy helped engineer an offense that would allow Tebow to be successful, minimizing the complex reads and route concepts in favor of easy passes or designed runs.
This reinforces the idea Gase preached in his press conference when he was introduced in Miami, when he stated that he wanted to base the scheme off of the strengths of the players. Gase and McCoy did not get too hung up on their scheme when Tebow became their starting quarterback. They simply went back to the drawing board, and emerged with a plan that allowed Tim Tebow to win an NFL playoff game.
Before the 2012 season, Denver signed future hall of famer, Peyton Manning, changing Gase’s life as a coach forever.
Now, how do you coach someone who is already a top-five player of all time, and 2 years older than you? You earn their respect. That is exactly what Gase did in Denver.
Gase, Mike McCoy, and Manning were able to work together to create the NFL’s 2nd best offense in 2012. They helped create a new life for Manning, maximizing his abilities even after a massive series of neck surgeries.
After the 2012 season, Mike McCoy was hired to be the head coach of the San Diego Chargers. Upon Manning’s, Elway’s, and Fox’s recommendations, Gase became the offensive coordinator.
The Guru Earns His Stripes: Denver Broncos’ Offensive Coordinator
Adam Gase became the Broncos’ offensive coordinator before the 2013 season, partially thanks to his ability to work with Peyton Manning.
What Gase was able to do in 2013 shattered any expectations of what Manning could do as a 37-year old quarterback coming off of several major surgeries, and will never be forgotten by the NFL record books
Manning threw for 5,477 yards (1st all time) and 55 touchdowns (1st all time). The Denver Broncos’ offense scored 606 points (1st all time), becoming the first team to pass the 600-point plateau.
The results speak for themselves. Adam Gase was able to completely change his philosophy twice in Denver. First simplifying the offense and running it completely through designed plays, eliminating reads for Tim Tebow. Then, he helped perfect the Peyton Manning offense, taking the hall of fame quarterback to heights he had not even been able to reach during his prime in Indianapolis.
Gase had gone from being a known entity in the NFL to being a known entity in football households across America.
After the team’s Super Bowl loss to the Seahawks, Gase returned under head coach John Fox, in an attempt to guide Denver to the ultimate prize. The team had another outstanding season, with the 2nd best scoring offense in the league, and a 12-4 record. However, they fell short in the divisional round of the playoffs to the Indianapolis Colts.
After that season, John Fox was fired as the head coach of the Denver Broncos. John Elway decided the team needed a fresh start, and new energy in an attempt to compete for Super Bowls.
This time, Adam Gase would not be an under the radar name that was brought to a new city. He was a hot commodity, and had options before the 2015 season began.
Patiently Waiting: Gase Spurns San Francisco, Heads to Chicago
After his second season in command of one of the NFL’s best offenses, Gase became an interesting candidate for head coaching vacancies.
The main location to which he was linked was San Francisco. The 49ers had just fired Jim Harbaugh in what became a highly publicized struggle with upper management. The team wanted to go in a different direction than Harbaugh envisioned, and the owner eventually relented to GM Trent Baalke, firing Harbaugh.
Adam Gase went in to interview with San Francisco, and was actually their top choice. However, during his second meeting with the team, they were unhappy with his choice of coordinators. Gase wanted to bring in his own people, but the 49ers wanted him to retain some of their current coaches. Most believe the main coach in this discussion was Jim Tomsula, who Gase most likely did not want to name as the defensive coordinator.
Gase knew he would have chances to be a head coach in the future, and was in no rush to hold the title. He decided to wait another year, and became the offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, once again under John Fox.
He was tasked with helping improve the play of Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler. To the untrained eye, the Bears’ offense didn’t improve. Their numbers weren’t vastly better than the Dolphins’, and the team didn’t win very many games at all. However, one must take a closer look before making evaluations.
Cutler had his lowest number of interceptions since 2011, and in that season he only played 10 games. He posted the second-best completion percentage of his career. He had his highest average yards per completion in 5 seasons. He also posted the highest quarterback rating of his career.
Mind you, Cutler did all of this through highly adverse situations. His top receiver Alshon Jeffery missed much of the season, only playing 9 games. Martellus Bennet, the team’s best tight end, missed 6 games. Eddie Royal, the team’s second best wide receiver, only played in 9 games. Gase’s offense was riddled with injuries in 2015, and he still managed to get improvements out of Jay Cutler.
That is what Gase has done throughout his entire career. He takes what he is given, he adjusts his schemes, and he makes the most out of what he has. The casual fan would not have seen the improvements in Chicago, but those who watched the team closely saw Gase’s importance.
When the hire was made, I received several messages from Bears fans about the importance of their offensive coordinator.
“Without Gase, we probably wouldn’t have won more than 2 games.”
“Cutler was night and day, and it was all Gase.”
“We knew before this season that we would lose him after one year, and it scares the s*&^ out of us.”
Even Cutler stated that he wishes they could keep Gase after Miami hired him. So no, Dolphins fans, he did not simply create the status quo in Chicago. He made changes, and helped improve a player that many felt was broken beyond repair.
The Destination: Gase is Hired by the Miami Dolphins
Here we are. Nineteen years after Adam Gase became an undergraduate assistant to Nick Saban, fifteen after he followed him to LSU, and twelve after he made the jump to the NFL.
Gase has worked under some of the most influential coaches in recent football history, and wowed all of them. He did not wow them by being a loud, abrasive coach. He did not scream at players, and command immense respect by becoming the top dog. He worked with his players. He gained knowledge from them, and he gave them knowledge at the same time.
The beauty of Adam Gase is that he is not a “student” of one coach. He is a student of the game. He has ascended the ranks by obtaining expertise and experience in each of his stops, and he has not committed to gluing his coaching identity onto the mentality of one of his teachers.
The Miami Dolphins wanted a young, innovative coach. They wanted someone who could excite the fanbase, and maximize the talent of the players. Based on Gase’s history, it seems that he fits that bill.
Adam Gase is not going to be the dominating head coach that yells in press conferences or goes on sideline tirades. He is calm and collected, but one can clearly see his passion for the game when he speaks.
The concern of Gase’s age has to be put into perspective. He started when he was 18. Most coaches start as graduate assistants at ages 24-27. That being said, in “coaching years”, Gase is far older and wiser than many candidates who are over 50 years old.
If he were 52 years old when Miami hired him, we likely wouldn’t hear anyone complaining. Instead, we hear comparisons to Josh McDaniels due to his youth, or that he is next Joe Phiblin because his success was due to being paired with a great quarterback.
It is unfair to compare Gase to any coach, because his history as a coach is unlike any candidate we have seen. We did not want a run of the mill candidate, or another safe decision for who would lead our team. The Dolphins front office collectively honed in on a coach, and took a risk. Now, it is simply a matter of whether or not their risk, a 37-year old offensive guru, will pay off.
All we know is that if Gase does succeed, he will write history as one of the youngest head coaches ever to lead an NFL franchise. We are all hoping that he can do just that.