There is a culture shock taking place at the New York Jets training facility these days and it is something that the players seem to be taking to. Turns out that athletes in the NFL don't mind order and discipline and don't entirely want the inmates running the asylum.
The Jets are closing in on their first training camp with head coach Todd Bowles, who took over for Rex Ryan, a head coach who was wildly popular with much of the fanbase despite four rough years without the postseason. Bowles comes in with a good resume that includes being an interim head coach where he went 3-1 with the Miami Dolphins and as a former player who won a Super Bowl.
He's direct. Doesn't talk a whole lot. Keeps it real simple. Has a bit of an "at-home" way about him.
But don't buy that he doesn't have a standard, he does.
Since minicamp ended in June, Metro has polled a dozen current Jets players about Bowles to determine their thoughts on their new head coach. All players were with the Jets last year and all were promised anonymity so they could openly express their thoughts without seemingly taking shots at their old head coach.
“He's tough, you can tell that. I've seen him in here at the crack of dawn working out in the gym. He's in here a couple days a week lifting, not just doing a walk on the treadmill or a few reps of bench press,” one defensive player said.
“He spells everything out, in detail. What we're going to do today, where we go. How practice is going to be laid out. Todd wants you to commit it – to take it seriously.
“In the past, practice seemed like something you went through. Something you just did. I'm not sure everyone took it seriously, players and the coaches. It is a lot more competitive this year.
“He doesn't go over the top, it's not the horror stories you hear from guys around the league about some coaches. But he wants you to have attention at all times. Last year, I don't know, just seemed like guys weren't keyed-in from the beginning.”
Interestingly enough, of the dozen players interviewed over the phone, not one will publicly slam former head coach Rex Ryan and his name is very rarely mentioned. Often, references to Ryan's style by these players are generic and vague but are clearly aimed at his style and his coaching staff. There is a clear distinction here now between the old ball coach and the new one.
Another player, this one on offense, who has played with several other NFL teams was impressed with how Bowles spells things out clearly.
"Last year, it seemed like practice, we didn't always know what was happening all the time," he said. "I've been around with other teams, but at times practice last year seemed disorganized (sic).”
The players liked Ryan, but felt perhaps he was too friendly, too much of an outgoing personality.
“I don't want to say that there wasn't a respect factor, but sometimes [Rex] seemed like one of us," another offensive player player said. "It was hard to take him seriously. Guys were late to meetings and stuff like that. We played hard for him, we loved him, but it was tough to separate him as a friend and a head coach. I've never had that before in high school or college.”
Bowles is part disciplinarian, part former player. He has the clout to back up a no-nonsense approach that still comes across with a smile. And while Bowles may be the anti-Rex, so to is the Jets' new general manager. He's a departure from the man who sat in his desk as well.
Mike Maccagnan has never been a general manager before and perhaps it shows a little bit. He, like his head coach, is quiet and a bit reserved publicly. But players have noted that he brings a quick sense of humor to the job.
One player, primarily utilized on special teams, said that “He's the kind of guy you can be yourself with,” the implication perhaps that the departed John Idzik didn't resonate with the locker room. There is a sense that Maccagnan is “real, and supports you.”
Another defensive player said last year that management “seemed distant, maybe it was the way the season went.”
Whatever the reason for last year and now for this year, it is quickly becoming clear that the Jets have two new personalities atop the organization, with their own approaches and way of doing business. After four years without a winning record and far too long without a Super Bowl berth, perhaps the new look of the Jets will find that right balance.
“It feels different around here, coming to work. Guys didn't want to be here last year,” one player said. “Maybe it was all the losing, maybe it was the negativity from the media. But guys wanted to leave quickly when the day was done.
“We had these game tables in the middle of the locker room, kind of to encourage teamwork and bonding. You hardly saw them used. Now you feel that guys don't mind being here, that things, I don't, the bad clouds are gone. It's up to us to keep it that way though.”
When asked if they had a choice to go back to last year's coaching staff and management team or move forward based on what they've seen of this year's team, nine of the dozen players endorsed the Bowles/Maccagnan duo. The other three players said it was too soon to tell but they all agreed the direction was good so far.
“It was needed,” the first defensive player said. “I think we needed a new voice in here.”