A half-dozen teams will be looking for new head coaches this offseason, and all of them want to find the next Sean McVay. But before most people had heard of McVay, everyone wanted Adam Gase.
When Nick Saban left Michigan State for LSU in 2000, Gase was the only assistant he brought with him. The most inexplicable phenomenon in recent NFL history—Tim Tebow winning a playoff game—can partially be explained by God and partially by Gase being the quarterbacks coach. Two years later, Gase was the offensive coordinator for the Peyton Manning–led Denver Broncos offense that broke the NFL record for points, touchdowns, 50-plus-point games, and second-half points while Manning broke the single-season records for passing touchdowns and passing yards. Not bad for Gase’s first year as an offensive coordinator at any level. Then–head coach John Fox called Gase a “master of innovation.” General manager John Elway called him a genius. Manning called him “the smartest guy I know.” When he was hired by Miami in 2016, it was clear the Dolphins had snagged the brightest offensive mind on the coaching market.
Three years after getting hired, Gase is out. Miami fired him on Monday, according to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Gase finishes with a record of 23-25 as Miami head coach, par for the course in mediocre Miami, which has won between six and nine games in nine of the past 10 seasons. The Dolphins never had an above-average offense with Gase—the team failed to surpass 24th in yards or to reach the top half of the league in points scored—and made the playoffs just once in his three years. Yet his record is slightly more impressive considering the team assembled by executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum in that time. Tannenbaum, who is known as more of a salary-cap specialist than a talent evaluator, has locked Miami into one of the worst cap situations in the league with little talent to show for it.
The Dolphins re-signed safety Reshad Jones to a $60 million deal in 2017, only for the safety market to crater a year later as more talented players at the position were released from other teams. Their 10th-highest-paid player, DeVante Parker, wasn’t used for long stretches of the season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who missed all of 2017 with an ACL injury and a month of 2018 with a shoulder injury, has a bigger cap hit than Aaron Rodgers in 2019, according to Spotrac. Gase finally got to work with Tannehill again for an extended stretch in 2018, and Tannehill finished with one of the best passer ratings of his career, albeit with his fewest games played outside of 2017. Gase’s Dolphins were rarely impressive, but the roster he was handed was miles from, say, McVay’s Rams, who paid offensive and defensive players of the year Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald a combined $3.5 million in 2017. Meanwhile, the Dolphins lit $9 million of cap money on fire this season just to get rid of Ndamukong Suh so he could play for … the Rams. We often hear about players needing coaches to put them in a position to succeed, but the same is true of head coaches and their front offices.
Gase has also been a strong in-game coach, and not just because of the Miami Miracle. As ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe noted earlier this month, Miami leads the league in winning percentage in one-score games since Gase was hired in 2016, ahead of second-place New England. While one-score games can be coin flips over the long run, the teams who are at extreme ends of the spectrum over a certain period often can point to coaches who are either quite good (Bill Belichick) or quite bad (Hue Jackson) late in games as a reason. Who knows what Gase could have accomplished had he been given the chance to groom a young quarterback in Miami, had the Dolphins parted with Tannehill instead of keeping the 30-year-old, late-blooming quarterback and firing a recently budding 40-year-old coach. Now Miami will now look for its 10th head coach in 15 years (a figure that includes interim head coaches). The Dolphins will join the laundry list of teams looking for the next Sean McVay, but they may have just let an earlier version go.