FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Todd Bowles is a trend-buster, a former New York Jets coach thriving in his first post-Jets job. He's the defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, preparing for Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes & Co. in Super Bowl LV. His three Jets predecessors flopped in their rebound gigs, winding up in the same place.
Working as TV analysts.
After getting sacked by the Jets, Rex Ryan, Eric Mangini and Herm Edwards went a combined 40-71 with the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively. Edwards, who technically was "traded" to the Chiefs, is the only one still coaching. He left ESPN to become the football coach at Arizona State, where he just finished his third season.
Unlike them, Bowles didn't go from one head-coaching job to another, which allowed him to decompress and rehabilitate his reputation in the role of a coordinator. Someday, he will be a head coach again, perhaps even for the Bucs when Bruce Arians, 68, retires. If Bowles figures out a way to slow down the Chiefs, he will be a hot commodity in the 2022 hiring cycle.
No, Bowles' time with the Jets (2015-18) didn't produce tangible success -- 24-40, with no playoff appearances -- but Bowles talks like a coach who learned some hard lessons. He got a lot out of the experience even if the Jets didn't get a lot of wins out of him.
"I had four years. When you get four years to make some things happen, you don't make excuses," Bowles said this week in a virtual news conference. "As a head coach, the buck stops there.
"It's unfortunate we didn't win. We played a lot of close games, but at the end of the discussion, we didn't win. There's no sense for me to sit here and say, 'Shoulda, coulda, woulda.' You go through that after the season you get let go. That's two years removed now. I think it made me a better coach than I was back then. It's not that I was a bad coach then, but your record shows you are.
"You have to eat that, you have to regroup and you have to become a better coach -- and that's what I'm doing."
Bowles, 57, gets it. Unlike some coaches, whose prodigious egos won't permit them to try different things, he has learned to adapt. He's a good defensive coach -- always was -- but now he understands the big picture because of his time in the Jets' big chair. He understands the business side of the game, the role of management and the importance of people skills.
As a head coach, he stepped out of his comfort zone (defense) and attended offensive meetings, which improved his overall perspective. He's reaping the benefits as he's calling defensive plays again.
"When he calls the game, he has a better feel for how it's going," said Bucs defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers, a longtime confidant who served as Bowles' defensive coordinator in New York. "He has become more well-rounded as a defensive coordinator after being a head coach."
Bowles' time with the Jets didn't produce many highlights, but at least he can say he's the last coach to lead them to a winning season -- 10-6 in 2015, his first year. The Jets should have made the playoffs, but they got upset by Ryan's inferior Buffalo team in the finale. In some ways, the Jets still haven't recovered. They haven't played a meaningful, post-Halloween game since.
The Jets' roster got old in 2016, which led to a massive rebuild in 2017, which led to them starting a rookie quarterback (Sam Darnold) in 2018. Bowles' biggest mistake was he failed to establish continuity on offense; he went through three coordinators in four years. He didn't get much help from the front office, which, in a moment of infamy, selected quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the second round of the 2016 draft.
Bowles never put him on the field, not once, which tells you everything about what he thought of that pick. That's a story for another day.
In the end, Bowles won 38% of his games. His successor (Adam Gase) and three predecessors all finished below 50%, proving the stink at One Jets Drive goes beyond coaching. The Jets are starting over again, hoping Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh can become a winning general manager-coach tandem.
The league is fickle. After one year, Bowles looked like a great hire.
"In Year 1, we go 10-6 and he was one of the best coaches in the NFL," Rodgers said.
Bowles proceeded to lose 34 of his final 48 games.
"At the end, he was one of the worst," Rodgers said. "It comes with the territory. He understands."
After getting fired, Bowles spurned a tempting offer to be the Chicago Bears' defensive coordinator, opting to reunite with the man who coached him a lifetime ago at Temple University. Arians entrusted Bowles with his defense, and Bowles has molded the young group into a championship-caliber unit that has recorded 12 takeaways during the Bucs' seven-game winning streak.
After beating the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, Bowles and Rodgers checked their phones and saw 20 to 30 congratulatory text messages from people affiliated with the Jets, according to Rodgers.
"There were a lot of great people in that building," said Bowles, who harbors no ill feelings toward the Jets.
He has moved on.
To better things.