Jets’ Johnson still believes in Gase, Darnold to lead team

New York Jets head coach Adam Gase takes questions from reporters. (Seth Wenig/AP)

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Christopher Johnson felt the same way most Jets fans did Sunday night.

Embarrassed. Frustrated. Angry.

“It was a mess on Sunday,” Johnson said Wednesday. “No question. I was not happy about that at all.”

Still, New York’s 27-17 season-opening loss at Buffalo did nothing to diminish the confidence Johnson — the Jets’ CEO and chairman — has in coach Adam Gase and quarterback Sam Darnold, or the process general manager Joe Douglas has embarked on in restructuring the roster.

Not even with fans clamouring for change on social media and sports talk radio. They’re tired of losing and waiting — nine seasons and running — for a return to the playoffs.

“Look, I feel that, too,” Johnson said in his first meeting with reporters since last season. “I’m No. 1 a fan and I’m really frustrated. Winning can’t happen fast enough. But the fans can rest assured that every player, every coach, me, everyone in this building is focused on making this team a team that they can be proud of.

“And I assure you, we will do that.”

Johnson, who has been in charge since his brother Woody became the U.S. ambassador to the U.K. in 2017, appears to feel better about the team’s situation than most of those head-shaking, jaw-clenching fans. A major part of Johnson’s outlook stems from his belief in Gase, who has been a popular target of criticism from the day he was hired in 2019.

“I have full confidence in Adam,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen him interact with this team. I’ve seen him lead this team.”

Johnson points to the Jets’ 1-7 start a year ago that was followed by a 6-2 finish.

“I think that he has a lot more in him as a head coach than some of our fans are giving him credit for,” Johnson said. “I understand. They want to see success. I think that they will.”

Gase had been lauded for his innovative approach to running an offence, particularly the quarterback position. But after three seasons in Miami, he was fired and then hired by the Jets just a few weeks later. That move by Johnson came under even more scrutiny when Gase’s offence in New York finished last or near last in several categories last season.

“I do continue to think that he is a brilliant offensive mind,” Johnson insisted.

He also continued to maintain his stance of not issuing any playoff mandates. Instead, he wants to see the team make noticeable progress as the season moves along.

“Hopefully, that won’t be too hard from that first game,” Johnson said. “But I’m looking for real progression over this season. I’m confident that we’ll see that.”

Darnold’s future with the franchise has also suddenly become a bit shaky to some outsiders, many who wonder if the Jets could be tempted to aim for the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft and start all over — again — by taking Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Darnold — called “a sterling quarterback” by Johnson — has struggled with consistency, and his performance against the Bills was rough. He made some mistakes that shouldn’t happen with a franchise-type quarterback in his third season. Johnson, for now, remains steadfast in his support of the No. 3 overall pick in 2018.

“I have so much confidence in Sam,” Johnson said. “He is the best player I know at turning the page. The absolute best. And I think he’ll turn the page on this last game and I think we’ll see an extraordinary Sam.”

Johnson acknowledged he had one recent regret, and that is how he handled the general manager position.

He fired Mike Maccagnan in May 2019 — after the GM oversaw free agency and the draft — before hiring Douglas the following month. That put Douglas in a tough spot where only now is he really starting to shape the roster the way he’d like.

“I want to avoid embarrassment for Mike and others, but there’s no question I feel in better hands in terms of putting together a roster with Joe,” Johnson said. “I have so much confidence in him. Do I wish I had made that change earlier? Absolutely.”

The Jets’ roster underwent an overhaul during the off-season, with Douglas trying to fill needs with short-term, team-friendly contracts. Johnson said he has given Douglas “complete discretion” and total control over how he puts together the roster.

While things appear grim after just one game, Johnson insists Jets fans should be optimistic for the future.

“I think we have a roster we can win with,” Johnson said, “if we stay healthy.”

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