The newest — and youngest ever — coach of the Miami Dolphins swooped into South Florida with huge national credibility but little local name recognition.
So who is Adam Gase, the lifetime assistant who on Saturday was given the keys to one of the NFL’s flagship franchises?
▪ He’s 37 years old — three years younger than Don Shula was when Shula started his long, historic run with the Dolphins.
▪ He is a branch off the Nick Saban coaching tree and has studied under some of the sport’s finest offensive minds.
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▪ He has a beautiful family, including a young son who adorably couldn’t sit still while his father was being introduced to Miami.
▪ He “works like a mule,” as one friend put it — and has the ideal combination of smarts and commitment.
▪ And he almost gave up on his coaching career before it really began.
Gase always knew he wanted to get into coaching. While his undergraduate classmates at Michigan State spent their evenings at bars and parties, he was in a dark room, watching film.
He was a student assistant for the Spartans’ football team, working for Saban, who was the coach at Michigan State at the time. Gase later followed Saban to LSU. This was before Saban’s two-year stint as Dolphins coach.
And it was before Gase really knew what he wanted in life.
“I know the process at that time, it’s slower,” Gase said. “When you become a grad assistant, you see a lot of guys fall out, you see a lot of guys give up on their dream.”
He was almost one of them. Gase was back in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, for a spell, and thought about a career change. Selling insurance seemed a safer bet than the long hours and meager pay of low-level coaching.
“Thankfully, I had three great friends who talked me out of it,” Gase said. “I went back to LSU and got another opportunity in Detroit, and the ball kind of got rolling for me.”
Instead, he did what he always has done: He went back to work.
Saturday brought the ultimate payoff. And he earned it, both with his résumé, and by surviving a grueling interview process.
Gase signed a five-year contract with the organization Saturday, but that was a mere formality. He had essentially locked down the job two days earlier.
The football lifer wowed Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and his closest advisers with a marathon interview, which informally began Wednesday night on Ross’ private jet.
Mike Tannnenbaum, who runs the Dolphins’ football operations, had Gase fly to South Florida with the Dolphins’ brain trust. They spoke for three hours and then went to dinner, where they spoke for a few hours more.
Then they met all day Thursday in Davie, where the Dolphins put Gase through a leadership assessment and marathon interview sessions.
If this all sounds exhaustive — and exhausting — that was the point. The organization wanted to wear Gase down so it could strip away all formality and get down to his true essence. What the Dolphins should have remembered is this: Gase has reached the pinnacle of his profession by out-hustling everyone else.
“He’s an extremely hard worker — a grinder,” said Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, whom Gase coached in Denver. “He’s extremely bright on all things football, an excellent communicator and always eager to learn more.”
Ross knew that before the process began. Ross reached out to trusted voices around the league and asked for suggestions. The Dolphins needed new life after four failed years under Joe Philbin’s leadership.
The name Ross kept hearing was Adam Gase.
The two days Gase and Ross spent together proved to the real estate mogul that the hype was real. Gase’s intelligence was keen. His temperament was right.
“We wanted to get the right leader,” said Tannenbaum, who directed the Dolphins’ search. “… When we looked at Adam, we felt like he had the right attributes.”
Said Dolphins vice chairman Matt Higgins: “When you spend time with him and this market gets to know him, you realize just how incredibly bright he is. … We felt like he had the whole package.”
People have seen that in Gase, no matter where he has worked.
His apprenticeship under Saban led to a job with the Lions, where he did grunt work for their personnel department before switching to the coaching side in 2005. Gase has always been lucky in his mentors — Saban is arguably the greatest college coach of all time — and Detroit was no different. He worked under offensive mastermind Mike Martz, who taught him how to be an NFL coach.
Gase also had a short stint with the 49ers before landing with the Broncos, where his talents truly emerged. He was Tim Tebow’s position coach the year the former University of Florida quarterback led the Broncos on an improbable playoff run.
He was Manning’s play-caller in 2013, when the future Hall of Famer had a season for the ages. And in 2015, he maximized moody Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
Gase climbed the ladder with effort and savvy. His journey wasn’t all work. Gase somehow found the time to start a family; he and wife Jennifer have a daughter and two sons.
But he doesn’t have time for much else.
After fulfilling his considerable media and marketing obligations at the team’s Davie headquarters Saturday, Gase slipped upstairs to his office, where he will be spending countless hours in the months — and, if all goes right, years — to come.
“I’ve been in this profession since I was 18 years old, so that’s really more than half my life,” Gase said. “The last three years, being a coordinator for both the Denver Broncos and the Chicago Bears, it’s an accelerated growth.”
He added: “Age is only a number, but you get older really quick. Every week’s a growing experience, you learn. I feel like the last three years have really prepared me for this.”