By Dan Pompei
Some NFL head coaching candidates are intriguing. A few are surprising. Others are underwhelming. And one is fascinating.
For now, that precocious offensive wizard is not entertaining the head coaching possibilities being dangled by the Browns, Vikings and Lions. Adam Gase is focused only on trying to help bring a Lombardi Trophy to the Rocky Mountains. And he is one of the primary reasons the Broncos are in position to do that. Once the Broncos' season is over, Gase will check his inbox for head coaching interview requests.
If NFL coaches were ranked by name recognition, Gase might come in slightly above the Jaguars assistant to the special teams coach. But the men who are responsible for hiring head coaches have meaty files on Gase. Those files include information like this:
He cut his coaching teeth under the guidance of Nick Saban at Michigan State, and when Saban left for LSU, Gase was the only coach he took with him. Among his mentors are Saban and earthy and erudite Saints assistant Joe Vitt, who also happens to be Gase's father-in-law. His influences as an offensive strategist are Mike Martz, Josh McDaniels and Mike McCoy, each of whom was his superior at one point.
Gase's 2014 offense scored more points than any offense in the history of the NFL, and his quarterback threw for more yards than any quarterback ever. His was the first NFL offense to have five players score at least ten touchdowns from scrimmage. Under the auspices of Gase this season, Peyton Manning, Knowshon Moreno, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas had career years.
There are those in the Broncos organization who will tell you his most impressive work was two years ago when he was the quarterbacks coach and Tim Tebow was his special project. It wasn't always pretty, but Tebow played well enough for the Broncos to qualify for the playoffs and then defeat the Steelers. Since their separation, Tebow has become a former quarterback and Gase has become the bane of many a defensive coordinator.
Of course Gase now has the privilege of working with Manning, which could lead to questions about whether or not one of the things he does best is ride coattails. Who, exactly, is coaching whom? "There is no doubt Peyton has had a big impact on our offense with the way he leads from the quarterback position, but Adam has the brains and personality to run the show and also the humility to take ideas and implement them," Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme said.
He also said this regarding the Broncos' chess playing style of offense: "Peyton is one of the best ever at making adjustments on the field, on the sideline. And I think Adam is on that same level from a coaching perspective. They are thinking the same things."
Coaching Manning can't be easy. Especially for someone who, at 35, is two years Manning's junior. Manning comes to every meeting prepared with questions, sometimes hard questions. And he demands good answers. In other words, his trust must be earned. With Gase, it has been.
Asked about his offensive coordinator Wednesday after practice, Manning told a group of reporters this: "I think Adam has done a good job taking the different strengths of the players that he has and putting those guys in the best situations out there. I always think that's the key to a good offense is putting players in positions where they feel comfortable, where they can thrive. I think Adam has done that. He has studied what players do well, what players don't do so well and has kept them out of those situations. That has allowed guys to go out there, play fast and play with confidence. I think that has made a big difference. So that is a credit to him for studying his own players and kind of knowing what each guy does best."
Tamme said none of the players think of Gase as a young coach because he knows what he is doing. There isn't any inexperience showing. There may have been some when he was a scouting assistant with the Lions a decade ago. When the Lions hired Mike Martz to run their offense, Martz saw something he liked in Gase and asked then-head coach Rod Marinelli if he could have him as an assistant. Marinelli said yes, and Martz told Gase to follow him around for a year. The next year Gase was promoted to quarterbacks coach. Martz then took Gase with him to San Francisco. He is not surprised by his ascension. "Adam is brilliant but humble," Martz said. "He has a charisma and a passion for the game. He is the whole package as far as I'm concerned. He knows how to motivate players. I would match his knowledge against anyone's, even though he still is a young coach."
When Gase was promoted to Broncos offensive coordinator from quarterbacks coach, he implemented some of the Martz philosophy in the playbook. He also put the offense on fast forward, huddling less and stressing defenses more. "Tempo is something we focused on this year," Tamme said. "It makes sense because he is an uptempo personality. He brings a lot of energy into every meeting, everything we do."
A front office man who has worked with Gase called him "one of the sharpest offensive minds I've been around," and praised him for knowing the personnel element of the equation as well as the strategic. He also called him "an outside the box thinker who is not afraid of change."
That does not mean Gase will embrace career change at this point, even though it is likely he will have the opportunity. He has a lot of coaching life ahead of him. He is in a wonderful spot in Denver. Friends say he is content and challenged there. And if he stays one more year, he is likely to preside over an offense that breaks the records it set this year, and many more. Could you imagine how dynamic the Broncos offense could be if it takes root and Gase expands it?
That alone is enough to make other teams want to get him out of Denver.
* * *
Dan Pompei has covered more than 500 NFL games, including 26 Super Bowls. He is one of 44 members on Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors board and one of nine members on the seniors committee. He was given the 2013 Dick McCann Award by the Pro Football Writers of America for long and distinguished reporting in the field of pro football. Follow him on Twitter @danpompei.