The 2019 Jets have yet to play a game, but their new head coach, Adam Gase, apparently is not afraid to shake things up and take a few chances.
Maybe that will prove to be good news for Jets fans starved for a playoff team for the first time since 2010. Or maybe it all will blow up in Gase’s face.
In announcing the completion of his assistant coaching staff Friday, Gase made one hire in particular that has to raise an eyebrow or two: He has brought Joe Vitt on board to serve as a senior defensive assistant working with outside linebackers.
On the surface, the Vitt hiring made simple sense considering Vitt is Gase’s father-in-law and has worked with him before, as recently as the past two years in Miami.
A closer look, though, makes it appear as an awkward hiring, because one of the people Vitt will be reporting to is Gregg Williams, whom Gase hired as his defensive coordinator.
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Vitt and Williams worked together in New Orleans and were found by an NFL investigation to have been the masterminds behind the Bountygate scandal in 2012. Williams was suspended indefinitely by the league (from which he was reinstated after one season away from the game) and Vitt was given a six-game ban, a punishment believed to be softer because Vitt testified against Williams in the NFL investigation.
Where the relationship between the two stands now isn’t clear because neither coach was made available for comment on Friday. But the situation bears watching.
Gase also hired Williams’ son, Blake Williams, as a defensive assistant.
Vitt’s daughter, Jennifer, met Gase in at a charity golf tournament. They married a year later and now have three children together.
Vitt was on the Dolphins’ staff last year as senior director of football and player development. Before that he spent 38 seasons as an NFL assistant coach with eight different teams, predominantly working with linebackers. From 2006-16 he was assistant head coach/linebackers for the Saints and helped them win Super Bowl XLIV.
Vitt also coached with the St. Louis Rams (2004-05), the Chiefs (2000-03), the Packers (1999), the Eagles (1995-98), the Los Angeles Rams (1992-94), the Seahawks (1982-91) and the Baltimore Colts (1979-81). He served as an interim head coach twice, for the Saints in 2012 and for the Rams in 2005.
Another hiring with an intriguing twist is former Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who only a year ago was considered a head-coaching candidate. Cooter will coach running backs.
Cooter joins the Jets after five seasons in Detroit, where he starting out as the quarterbacks coach for Matthew Stafford. He became offensive coordinator in 2015 and in 2017 the Lions had the No. 13 offense in the NFL, the sixth-ranked passing offense and the No. 7 scoring offense.
Cooter’s first NFL coaching experience was as an offensive assistant for the Colts from 2009-11. He was the Chiefs quality control coordinator for a season, then an offensive assistant for Denver in ‘13, where he first worked with Gase.
Cooter and Vitt will join the coordinators Gase already hired — Williams on defense, Dowel Loggains on offense and Brant Boyer, a holdover from Todd Bowles’ staff, on special teams.
In all, 13 of the 21 coaches on Gase’s staff are new to the Jets, but only one position coach is a holdover, Dennard Wilson with the defensive backs.
Gase also hired five other members of his former staff from the Dolphins: assistant head coach offense/wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson (wide receivers coach in Miami from 2016-18), assistant head coach defense/inside linebackers coach Frank Bush (same role in Miami from 2017-18), offensive assistant Bo Hardegree (quarterbacks coach in Miami from 2016-18) and defensive line coach Andre Carter (same role in Miami from 2017-18).
Aside from Wilson, the returning assistants include Steve Jackson as assistant defensive backs coach, Jeff Hammerschmidt as an assistant to Boyer on special teams coach and Robby Brown as a defensive assistant. Strength and conditioning coach Justus Galac stays along with his assistants Aaron McLaurin and Joseph Giacobbe.