Adam Gase looked down on Wednesday.
He had the look of a beaten-down coach who’s 0-5 and certain he’s going to lose his job — whether it’s before the season ends (which he’d probably prefer) or as soon as it’s over.
But there was something else to the glum look.
It was pretty clear the Jets coach, sitting in front of a camera for a Zoom call with reporters, wanted no part of the conversation as it pertained to running back Le’Veon Bell, whom the team released on Tuesday night.
As he was being peppered with questions about why Bell — the Jets’ best offensive skill-position player on a roster that has as many of them as MetLife Stadium has fans on game days in this COVID-19 era — was let go and what part he played in it, Gase looked ashen.
Gase delivered no transparent answers, and he did his best Bill Belichick impersonation, trying to deflect the questions with lines about moving on and channeling all of his focus on Sunday’s game against the Dolphins.
But the Bell release drew attention to a concerning issue that has followed Gase from Miami to New Jersey — an issue about his sometimes-turbulent relationships with his players, particularly star players.
Though there are two sides to every story and every situation is different — whether it’s financial, game-use-related or personal — there were some high-profile players Gase coached in Miami who turned on him very publicly.
And now, with Bell gone for no compensation, he becomes the second high-profile Jets player to force his way off the team this season — joining safety Jamal Adams, who was traded to Seattle.
It this all Gase’s fault? No.
Bell is culpable for coming into last season heavier than his usual playing weight, and his production was pedestrian for a player who’d been given a four-year, $52 million contract. The porous offensive line could be blamed for some of that, but Bell is accountable, too.
For all that money the Jets invested, they got 863 rushing yards, 3.3-yards per carry, three rushing touchdowns and one receiving TD in 17 games.
Of course, there was the word that quickly leaked out about Gase never wanting then-GM Mike Maccagnan to spend all that money on a running back. Neither Gase nor Bell, despite the smiling public images they portrayed, never got over that.
To Bell’s credit, he bit his tongue for the better part of last season about the way he was being utilized, which was not a way that best suited his skill set. I publicly supported Bell, a popular figure in the locker room, for the way he conducted himself in 2019.
After Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals, against whom he had one pass thrown to him and carried the ball 13 times, Bell “liked’’ a couple tweets from people criticizing Gase for his utilization of him and saying the Jets should trade him.
That kind of passive-aggressive action, I did not condone. As it turned out, it became the last straw for Gase and general manager Joe Douglas.
And, just like Adams, Bell got his way and escaped the Jets and their losing culture — like Adams, surely hoping to land with a winner.
Where there’s smoke, more often than not, there’s fire.
And, based on Gase’s past issues with some of his Dolphins players (see: receivers DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips) and problems with the Jets last year (see: receiver Quincy Enunwa and offensive lineman Keleche Osemele), there appears to be a sizable fire burning at Gase’s feet.
Asked on Wednesday why he quit on Bell and why there’s a “stigma’’ developing regarding his relationship issues with players, Gase said, “For whatever reason, it didn’t work out. Moving onto Miami. That’s the No. 1 concern for us right now.’’
Are the Jets a better team against Miami without Bell? Of course not.
Asked if he believes his perceived misuse of Bell was the cause of it not working out, Gase said, “It’s irrelevant at this point.’’
Wrong answer. It is, in fact, highly relevant.
“It didn’t work out,’’ Gase said, “and we’re going to focus on this game right now.’’
The question for Gase at this point is how many more games he’ll have to focus on before it’s finally — mercifully — over for him with the Jets.
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