Now 40, Adam Gase, the next coach of the New York Jets, is married to a former linebacker’s daughter, a father of three and on his second job as a head coach in the AFC East. He still goes by “Goose” back at his alma mater, Marshall (Mich.) High. Rich Hulkow, the retired coach whose name is on the school’s field, laughs when he thinks about the routes his old wideout has taken since graduating in 1996.
Gase was a gangly pleaser then. Hulkow remembers the play designs Gase would leave on his office desk. Hulkow read them in the morning, and says Gase was already geared toward analytics as a teen. His natural talent was for numbers.
“He was no star, not a starter, either,” Hulkow says. “It was safe to send in plays with him, though. His designs were usually to throw the ball to the receiver.”
Gase got his hands on the ball in post-practice workouts with Bill Dryer, his position coach. He platooned as a possession receiver, developing into a disciplined route runner under 12 yards and honing his ball-catching skills in the offseason. Dryer drilled him, and Gase grew more inquisitive about the game’s intricacies.
“If we were static in patterns, Adam would ask, ‘Why don’t we do this or that?’ ” says Dryer, who is now the head coach at Marshall. “Adam could always see something, modify base plays for greater gain.”
When recruiters came by Marshall to eye quarterback Ryan Van Dyke, a 6-foot-5 slinger courted by the likes of Notre Dame, Hulkow, a former Michigan State tackle, mentioned to Spartans recruiter Dean Pees that Gase was headed to East Lansing as a student. Hulkow figured Gase could find a spot in head coach Nick Saban’s operation. Spreadsheets and video analysis were Gase’s kind of grind.
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“I got a kid you really need,” Hulkow told Pees.
Pees gave Gase a business card and told him to call when on campus. Gase followed through. Pees handed him a self-scout he did with the Browns, and Gase catalogued plays, tracked tendencies and met with Pees on Thursdays in season.
By the time Saban uprooted for LSU, Gase was the only assistant to follow.
“You knew he was excited, but Adam’s got a good poker face,” Hulkow says. “His path was about perseverance and hard work. It’s the million-dollar question how he went up the ladder as a coach without the playing background. Hard work is my best answer.”
Gase likes to say he was “raised under” Saban, but he was born in Ypsilanti, Mich. His father, Art, was a plant manager known to turn an operation around quickly then move on to the next task.
Up at 4:30 a.m. each day, Art returned home at 7 p.m. The lifestyle led his mother, Nancy, and the two boys to South Jersey and Western New York, Valparaiso, Ind., and finally Marshall, Mich., a town of 7,000 residents on the way from Kalamazoo to Ann Arbor on Interstate 94. Gase’s brother, Ben, who is 18 months younger, remembered Adam, a pitcher, keeping the book for the baseball team with perfect penmanship and a penchant for analysis.
“The book was so pristine it was almost insane,” Ben says. “We used to be playing PlayStation or Sega Genesis, he had spreadsheets.”
Adam Gase got into coaching at the lowest rung. He worked as a student assistant at Michigan State, then joined Saban as the only holdover from his Spartans staff as a graduate assistant at LSU when Saban uprooted in 2000. Gase started gauging just how far he could go with his college football gigs. He watched fellow aspirants fall out, give up on the dream. He considered an off ramp as well — he interviewed for an insurance salesman position back in Mount Pleasant, Mich., while on break from LSU, where he made about $8,000 a year. Friends talked him out of it.
“Our parents never said, ‘You’re not making any money, you need to quit.’ It was, ‘Keep going! Keep going!’ We never heard a negative thing,” Ben Gase said.
Adam Gase stayed the course, returning to Baton Rouge before button hooking back to Detroit as a scouting assistant with the Lions and “the ball kind of got rolling for me.”
He would stop in the Marshall locker room on Friday nights when possible, then took off on a tour of the nation’s football machine. In Detroit, he started on the scouting side before becoming an offensive assistant coach. He aligned himself with Mike Martz, made film cutups of every play from the St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” era and earned a job as quarterbacks coach.
He followed Martz to San Francisco in 2008, where he learned how to game plan and attack defenses. Denver was his destination a year later, where he worked with wideouts before taking the quarterbacks under his supervision. As quarterbacks coach in 2011, he oversaw Tim Tebow’s playoff win, then he was the voice in Peyton Manning’s headset as offensive coordinator when Manning led the Broncos to the playoffs multiple years — including a berth in Super Bowl XLVIII following the 2013 season. Manning called Gase “the smartest guy I know,” and then-Denver coach John Fox dubbed Gase “a master of innovation.”
It was during that business trip to the Meadowlands for the Super Bowl that Gase mentioned a personal vetting he received. He had been dating the daughter of former Saints linebackers coach Joe Vitt, Jennifer, for a few months when he sat down with Joe Vitt at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Saints coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and Bills linebackers coach Matt Sheldon were also at the dinner, but eventually left Vitt and Gase alone. Vitt was ready to be his father-in-law.
“I call Jen and say, ‘Hey, your dad gave me permission to marry you,’ and she goes, ‘What … you asked him?’ ” he told reporters. “I told her no. I don’t know if it was too many vinos or what.”
They got engaged soon after. Three kids followed. Gase had a brood of his own.
“I learned a long time ago it’s about what you can teach players, the knowledge you have [and] the work ethic you have,” Gase said the day he was introduced as the Dolphins coach in 2016. “Jon Kitna told me in 2007, he said, ‘Players don’t care what you’ve done in the past. They want to know how you can help them on the field, how can you make them a better player and how can you get them paid.’ If you can do those types of things, guys will respect that.”
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Miami is now in Gase’s wake. He reached the playoffs his first season, but did not return the next two years. Miami went 7-9 in 2018, which concluded with three consecutive losses following the “Miami Miracle” victory over New England that ended with Kenyan Drake running the last 52 yards as the Dolphins scored on a pass and double lateral on the final play.
“We’re playing one week at a time right now,” Gase said after his final win. “Any loss could be the end.”
He finished his tenure on South Beach 23-25 overall.
He has “kept battling” as he regularly encourages his players to do, and won over the Jets the last week. Family and friends say they believe “Goose” has his top gun in quarterback Sam Darnold.
His brother notes Adam “is much more intense” now than in their childhoods. Ben has done well for himself, as well. He lives in the Dallas area and ranks as the founder and CEO of R2 Logistics, a global provider of transportation services and logistics solutions. He insists he knows what is coming up to Florham Park from Miami.
“I can promise you he works hard,” Ben said. “He’s going to work his ass off, kill to win games. He’s a nutcase when it comes to working.”