During the worst of it for Adam Gase in 2017, when the losses were piling up and the Dolphins offense was, by his own admission, “garbage,” an old friend and confidant decided it was time for a reality check.
Mike Martz, architect of the Greatest Show on Turf and Gase’s greatest coaching influence, fired off a blunt, expletive-laced text to his former apprentice mid-season.
“I just told him, ‘I don’t recognize this. This isn’t you. This is not Adam Gase. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not Adam Gase.’” Martz told the Miami Herald.
“I wasn’t trying to hurt his feelings. But when you’re a head coach and you’ve got so much going on and you start to delegate, if you’re not careful it can get away from you in certain areas, and it’s hard to go back and retrieve it,” Martz continued. “Sometimes you’ve just got to make changes. I think my message to him was, ‘You were hired because of what you did on offense and your relationship with the quarterback, basically. That’s the No. 1 thing, because you’re successful and you help teams win that way. The big issue is, don’t get away from that. You can be a head coach and still do those things. Don’t ever leave it.’”
Consider the message received.
After a season in which most everything went wrong, including his vision for how his offense should operate, Gase is determined to coach on his terms in 2018. And he has crafted a roster, a coaching staff and an offensive system in 2018 around the unshakable belief that his way works.
There’s plenty of historical evidence that he is right.
Gase is just two years removed from a boffo coaching debut, leading the upstart Dolphins to a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance, despite losing Ryan Tannehill for the season’s last month to a knee injury.
But the roots of his coaching philosophy – and his uncanny ability to get the most out of his quarterbacks – reach down to the very beginning of his career, when Martz arrived on his scene and changed everything that was to come.
The year was 2006, and Gase was a low-level assistant for the Detroit Lions.
Martz, meanwhile, was one of the league’s most respected minds, the architect of the high-flying St. Louis Rams offense that turned a grocery store shelf-stocker named Kurt Warner into a Hall of Famer.
His seismic run as Rams coach ended after an acrimonious 2005 season, but he did not stay unemployed long. The Lions were quick to hire Martz as their offensive coordinator. And Gase was quick to do anything his new boss needed.
“There was not a quarterbacks coach [in Detroit],” Gase said. “Mike basically was like, ‘You’re the quality control guy. I’m going to train you how to coach quarterbacks.’ That’s like a big deal.”
More like a career-changing deal.
Gase, who in Martz’s view has the rare combination of elite smarts and passion for the game, was still in his 20s and needed a crash-course in NFL football.
So Martz assigned a project that would take up nearly the entire offseason. Martz told Gase that the Rams barred him from bringing his video cut-ups from St. Louis. So it was Gase’s job to go back and do all of that work again – editing and cataloging some 100 games and thousands upon thousand of plays.
“I actually went in and typed in every personnel formation, every play, every game from ’99 through five games into 2005,” Gase said. “It was a lot of games, but it was great for me, because when I saw something new, I’d watch it. This was not like a two-day project. This was like months.
“Creating those cut-ups really grinded into my brain and I was able to ask him questions and I was able to start learning from there. He was awesome with me. He spent so much time teaching me the little tiny things of, ‘OK, when we have this [practice] period, this is what we’re doing with the quarterbacks and here’s why we’re doing it.’ He didn’t have to do what he did. And I was able to learn a lot.”
Added Martz: “[That’s] the only way he was going to learn this thing, because that’s the way I learned it when I came in the league. All I did for the first few years in the league other than coach was I just looked at film constantly. His best education would be to go back and look at what we did through those years and make cut-ups.”
“.... That’s the only way he was going to learn. It was hard for him.”
The tough love worked.
Gase had the foundation he needed. And then Martz, over the next three years in Detroit and San Francisco, helped him build the rest of the house.
Martz passed along the lessons that his mentor, longtime NFL assistant Ernie Zampese, taught him about quarterbacks.
While scouts want to pick apart prospects 50 different ways, Martz – who is back in football after a six-year hiatus as coach of San Diego’s team in the new Alliance of American Football – really only cares about three qualities:
Is a quarterback accurate? Is he tough (mentally and physically)? And is he smart?
In Tannehill, the Dolphins seem to have all three.
And now that Tannehill is finally healthy – and perhaps better than ever – Gase has a chance to restore any slippage to his reputation as a quarterbacks guru after an ugly 2017. He earned that rep over the course of a decade by helping coax career years out of Tannehill, Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow and Jay Cutler
How? By following Martz’s playbook.
“His personality is such that, the No. 1 thing with a quarterback and a quarterbacks coach is they have to absolutely buy into you and what you’re talking about,” Martz said. “They have to fully believe that they’re going to help you be better. And he has done that with everybody that he’s coached. That’s why they’ve gotten better.”
Gase, who is one of a growing number of NFL head coaches who also call plays, doesn’t want his quarterbacks to be robots. Instead, he helps them see the big picture, be a coach on the field and also contribute to the game-planning process.
That worked well with Tannehill in 2017. Not so much with Cutler in 2018 after Tannehill got hurt a second time.
Is it time for Gase’s bounce-back season? Only time will tell. But Martz expects it because he knows Gase’s potential. His pupil has always been ahead of the curve.
When the two men worked together for one year on the 49ers’ coaching staff, Martz would have Gase put together his own call sheet, and they would compare notes in the locker room before games.
More often than not, Gase and Martz had nearly the identical list of plays.
“He’s the only guy I’ve been around that you could really see that he sees things and understands football from a different level,” Martz said. “He’s special. There’s no question about it. I felt like at that point, he would not only be a good coordinator, but I always told him when we were in Detroit, that he would be a head coach. He just has that demeanor to him.”
The admiration? Mutual.
Gase invited his mentor to Dolphins practice late in the preseason, and even had him coach up his players during practice.
“The majority of what I’ve learned is from him, especially about offensive football but also how to present in front of players, whether it be installing things,” Gase said. “Just like those side conversations with guys and in front of the group. I don’t know if you really want to call it motivation, but I think maybe more confidence. He’s the best one I’ve ever been around as far as when he was in front of the group, you walked out of the room and you thought you were going to score 60 every game. You could feel that from him that he believed that. That was something I think just watching him as many times as I did, it just kind of rubbed off on me.”
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