FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Todd Bowles sits down, and slowly straps a Game Ready ATX wrap around his right knee, taking a few minutes between morning meetings.
He played eight years in the NFL and has been coaching in it for twice as long. He was part of staffs that got fired in consecutive years earlier this decade. He waited his turn.
And now that Bowles has arrived here, he has a pretty good vision for what he wants in a ballclub. You can hear Bill Parcells in his words. You can hear Bruce Arians in what he's saying. But after all the experiences he's had, at 51, Bowles is very much his own coach, comfortable in his own skin.
"If I need anything, Bruce Arians and Bill Parcells are sitting right there. They're sitting right there," he said. "But you have to take things you learn to be your own person. Only I can get a feel for the team, no one else is here. I've learned how to do things, and what to do. And in this league, there are a lot of ways to skin a cat. To win, there's not one specific system that works. So you can't try to be anybody else. You have to be yourself."
That Bowles will be is a sure thing -- it's already noticeable in the difference in tone in the building, compared to how things were under Rex Ryan. And so we talked about that -- and a whole lot more -- as his New York Jets kicked training camp into high gear on Sunday.
Is Geno (Smith) the starter?
TB: It's his job to lose. He plays well, and everything goes according to plan with him, then he's starter. If he doesn't, and the other guy plays better, and it becomes a problem, then the other guy is the starter. But it's Geno's job to lose. He's the starter, but I still wanna see some things with live bullets to make me comfortable to say, "Good. He's our starter going into the season and I have no qualms about it." I see some good things. I just like to see some more progress before I commit to it.
What do you need to see from him?
TB: He's gotta command the offense and command the game -- from a clock management standpoint, backed up, red zone, third down -- just have a good feel. And you pretty much have to be in the flow and command of the offense. I gotta see that.
What did you learn from going through the quarterback issues with the Arizona Cardinals last year after Carson Palmer was hurt?
TB: Draft 10 quarterbacks! (Laughs) You need more than three, I can tell you that.
TB: Just belief and understanding that you're gonna deal with injuries and body blows every year, and to make sure the next guy up is always ready to go. He may not be what the other guy was, but you better find out quick what he can do, and do just that. We were pretty comfortable with guys going in and being able to do some of the things they can do, instead of making them do different things. Frostee (Rucker) couldn't do what (Darnell) Dockett did. It was making sure they could do the things they needed to do to be somewhat successful and not look crazy out there. That was the biggest thing.
How were you guys able to work around it?
TB: You're not gonna get 32 teams with premier quarterbacks. Some of them are young and upcoming. Some of them need time to grow. Some of them, over time, prove to be average quarterbacks. So if you don't have a proven one, you don't try to make him win the game, but you make sure he manages everything. You have to make sure he commands the game and understands the game. He's a big part of the game, but he doesn't need to go out and make every play by himself and say, "Look at me!" There are guys around him that have to do a lot of things. He has to do a lot of things, as well. But you don't center it around him.
Why was Chan (Gailey) the right guy to hire to build the offense around whoever is your quarterback?
TB: For me, he was the right guy because of the way he teaches, and how he teaches, and the different ways he can teach -- he has a way. He has a way of making -- and simplifying -- things for guys to learn offenses faster. And he's gonna emphasize the running game, as well as the passing game. So he has the right fit, as well as the right demeanor.
Why was he the right fit?
TB: For me, being a first-year coach, I'm not gonna say I demand to run the offense. You want a guy over there that you can trust. You want a guy over there that's done it, you want a guy over there that commands your room. You want a guy over there that you don't have to look over your shoulder and (check in on him) and see what he's doing, but yet still have the same core values that you have. So Chan was the perfect guy.
So it's the flexibility to fit the offense around different kinds of quarterbacks?
TB: He can coach. He can coach, basically. And it's not just around the quarterback -- he's a very good offensive coordinator. He has his hands on everything and he understands exactly what everybody needs to be doing.
You and Mike (Maccagnan) hadn't worked together in a couple decades. Now you're joined at the hip. So what's the vision for the Jets?
TB: The vision is to try to build sustained success. Obviously, we had some money to spend, so we got some pieces that'll hopefully help us. But we wanted to develop our young guys. And with the older guys teaching them how to be pros, we figured we'd try to develop a good farm system from within. You need some older guys coming in for their first few two or three years, while the young guys learn to become professional and learn the system, and you hopefully continue drafting well, hopefully you have a good nucleus for you ballclub. That's basically what we're trying to do.
Since you and Mike weren't coming from the same tree, was it tough to meld what you both want in players?
TB: It takes a while to do that, but we hit it off quick. And we see a lot of things the same way. That's the great thing about it -- we both don't have an ego, and we understand what it takes to win and what it takes to build. If his idea is better than mine, let's do it. And we understand what we're trying to do, and how we're trying to get it done. We've been on the same page since Day 1; it's been nothing but great with him.
You're from here. How do you view the challenge of coaching in this market?
TB: It doesn't make it any different -- I mean, you gotta win no matter what. It's a professional sports team and they go by wins and losses. Obviously, everything's bigger in New York. But you can't let that deter what you're trying to do. It's about football, and you make it about football. And the media, they have some intelligent people here -- and that's a good thing, too. You deal with football. And the media's part of it; you deal with the media. You just try to keep your mind focused and your team focused on the main goal, and that's all I'm trying to do.
What have you guys accomplished so far?
TB: I don't think I've accomplished too much, we're still getting to know each other. But they understand what I'm looking for and I kinda got a feel for a lot of guys and what they do and what makes them tick. We're on an accountability system. That's the one thing we're trying to get accomplished: You are responsible for your job, your whereabouts, where you're supposed to be and how you do things around here. It's not a crack-the-whip type of thing. It's treating them normal. This is what I want, this is what's required -- can you do this? And if you can't, you're probably not gonna be here.
So it's on them?
TB: It's on them.
TB: It is. I mean, it is. It's disappointing. Like I said, it happened twice. And we're more worried about the person than the player. You have kids and you tell them to do something and they do something else, then you're pissed off. And over time, they have to gain your trust back. You allow them to gain your trust back, you don't make it easy. You gotta see results, you gotta see consistency, all of the above, as well as owning up to what you did. And then time will tell.
So you guys spent a lot in free agency, but they're deals you can get out of. How do you balance the short-term and long-term interest here?
TB: It's a mix. You don't ever want an all-young team, you don't want an all-veteran team. You want a mix of guys, with a good influx of talent. Fortunately, we had a lot of money to spend, so we were able to get some good players. And hopefully they play well. And five-star players will have to be five-star players. But at the same time, they've had success in their careers and they understand what it takes to be a professional, and you want the young guys to learn from that and be comfortable professionals earlier than they have to be, rather than just going in blind and seeing they have to do it without an experience. Hopefully they can learn from that.
You won fast in Arizona ...
TB: Yeah, different year, though. We won fast, but it wasn't easy. And everyone would say it wasn't easy. We had some great times in Arizona. We some good guys and we had some good coaches -- and I think we have that here. But we have to build it differently, because every year is different.
Do you see a contender in that locker room?
TB: Not right now -- we aren't even putting on the pads until this afternoon.
Then a team that can contend?
TB: I see us getting better day by day. And as we grow and see what team we become before the first game, I would like to become a contender. But we have a long way to go before we use that word. We're gonna take care of us, we're gonna get to know us, and we're gonna be a football team that grows together. And as the days progress, we'll shape and form that.
TB: Every team has goals. I don't view New England one way or the other. They're the Super Bowl champs -- that's all I know right now. I'm trying to build a team the way I need to build it. So right now, going forward -- and they're not our first game -- we're working on ourselves, we're working on getting better every day. And at some point, our focus will turn to Cleveland (the Jets' Week 1 opponent). But right now, we're just working on the Jets and trying to become the best team we can be.