Smarter than Peyton? Maybe not, but Gase has a bright NFL future
NEW YORK -- Some things you just have to see for yourself during Super Bowl week, and that's why one of my main objectives was to spend a little time in the vicinity of the guy Peyton Manning claims is actually smarter than him.
I know. Hard to fathom. But once the Broncos' 37-year-old football savant laid that mouthful on Adam Gase, Denver's 35-year-old whiz-kid offensive coordinator, I had to find out what that kind of intelligence must sound like. Would I even comprehend it?
Manning, earlier this month, gushed to The MMQB's Peter King: "I really like Gase. I like playing for guys that are smarter than me and work as hard as me. Gase is there before I get there in the morning.''
So, I put it directly to him on Super Bowl Media Day: What gives, Gase? Are you smarter than the quarterback who reads NFL defenses like John Nash reads mathematical equations in A Beautiful Mind'? Do you ever have to, you know, dumb it down for him?
"Oh, I don't know what he was thinking that day,'' said Gase, and I'm almost sure Gase said thinking, rather than drinking. "He's definitely the smartest player I've ever been around and I've never seen anybody work like him. Someone told me [he said] that. I just laughed, because I'm telling you, the guy's the smartest guy I've ever been around.''
I'll take that as a non-denial. Which, come to think of it, was a pretty shrewd answer. Maybe Manning was right. Already this month, Gase has proven smart enough to take a pass on the challenge of being the Cleveland Browns head coach -- he declined offers to interview for the job, citing unfinished business in Denver -- and the confidence and trust that his play-calling and gameplans have earned him from the Broncos is at an all-time high as the Super Bowl against NFC champion Seattle looms.
In coaching Manning, who's two years his senior and has a reputation for the game's most cerebral approach to quarterbacking, Gase said it comes down to answers. When No. 18 asks questions, he wants answers, and he wants them quickly. It's Gase's job to supply them.
"The only thing I knew I had to do was work as hard as possible giving him as many answers as possible, and as quickly as I could,'' said Gase, who was Denver's quarterbacks coach last season, before being elevated to replace departed offensive coordinator Mike McCoy in 2013. "I had that one great piece of advice from [Colts quarterbacks coach] Clyde Christensen, who told me, 'Just grind. Just work as hard as you can and when he asks a question, have an answer for him, and you'll be fine.' That's what I've tried to do from the get-go.''
There must be obvious brilliance in Gase's answers because things worked historically well for Denver's No. 1-ranked offense this season, with the Broncos setting NFL single-season records for points (606) and total touchdowns (76) and Manning breaking the league mark for both passing touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477).
Those won't be bad bullet points to list on Gase's resume, especially if Denver finishes the job with a victory against Seattle and its No. 1-ranked defense on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. But Gase isn't just along for the ride as Manning's caddy. He's been with Denver since 2009, and gets a healthy share of the credit for helping remake the Broncos offense in midseason around the unique skillset of quarterback Tim Tebow in 2011, when Denver went on that improbable run to the playoffs.
If you can help coax improvement from both Tebow's and Manning's games -- as diverse as they are -- this coaching thing might just work out for you long term. Gase was the Broncos quarterbacks coach that 2011 season, and he proved he could exhibit both creativity and innovation in molding Denver into an option-based offense.
"It was fun to try to do something that really nobody else was doing at the time,'' Gase said. "We had to do a lot of research and watch a lot of college tape. Just trying to find ways to put our guys in better positions than what we were in when we first started developing that offense.''
McCoy got an NFL head coaching job in large part due to his experience with Tebow and Manning in Denver, and took San Diego to the AFC playoffs this year in his first season on the job, even winning a postseason game. And it won't be long until Gase's opportunity arrives as well, despite his limited experience as a coordinator, and the fact he never played football beyond high school.
It was no surprise that quarterback-needy teams such as the Browns and Vikings sought to interview Gase for their head coaching vacancies this month, with the trend toward hiring young and dynamic offensive play-callers never really going out of style on the coaching carousel. Gase chose to sit this year's hiring season out, but he'll be on everyone's A-list next January, especially if he has some Super Bowl-winning luster attached to his name by then.
"It's one of those things where if an opportunity arises [as a head coach], so be it,'' Gase said of his "hot-coordinator'' status in this year's job market. "If it doesn't, I enjoy what I'm doing right now. [Passing on the Browns] was the right move for what we were trying to accomplish here. It was just not the right time for me to move on. This [getting to the Super Bowl] was the No. 1 goal ever since we lost that game against the Ravens [in the playoffs last year]. I wanted to make sure it was complete focus for me, and I was just focused on this game.''
For his loyalty to Denver's Super Bowl cause, Gase earned a one-word burst of praise from Broncos football czar John Elway, who called the decision to stay put: "Studly.'' That's a man's man way of saying "I really appreciate that,'' but in truth, Gase has learned to trust his instincts on making coaching moves with great results. At least since 2002, when he considered leaving LSU as a graduate assistant in Nick Saban's program to move back home to Mt. Pleasant, Mich., to take up a career in the exciting world of insurance sales.
That's when he made the fateful decision to run his thinking by three of his college buddies, just in case they might quibble with it.
"They had me on speaker phone, and I said, 'Hey, I think I'm going to take this job,' and that was not well-received by those three,'' Gase said, smiling at the memory of where his career's best call occurred. "They basically talked me into staying at LSU, and said, 'You're the only one of us who's actually doing what you like doing. So stick with it.' I owe those three guys a lot.''
Gase said he interviewed for the insurance salesman job "sitting in an Applebee's.'' Let him and the Broncos win on Sunday and 12 years after he nearly gave up on coaching he might wind up in an Applebee's commercial for all he knows.
"There was a point that I thought it might not work out,'' Gase said of his nascent coaching career. "It ended up working out pretty good. At the time, I think there might have been some college loans -- that might have been part of it. When you're making about eight grand a year, it's tough to pay everything off.''
Gase did go back home to Michigan, but it was to spend five years with the Lions during the Steve Mariucci and Rod Marinelli coaching eras, working his way up from a personnel department position to quarterbacks coach by 2007. After a year as an offensive assistant with offensive coordinator Mike Martz in San Francisco in 2008, he joined Josh McDaniels' new staff as a receivers coach in Denver in 2009. He has one other NFL tie: He married the daughter of Saints linebackers coach Joe Vitt, a long-time league coaching veteran.
Gase is just another classic overnight success that was years in the making, but he said he has never let his relative youth or lack of playing experience color his coaching style. That may be why he can look Manning in the eye -- with a Hall of Fame quarterback like Elway also in the building -- and presume to teach his 16-year veteran quarterback a thing or two. Even if he is the NFL's second-youngest offensive coordinator.
"I coached Jon Kitna [in Detroit] when he was 48 and I was 28,'' said Gase, exaggerating only slightly. "I don't think there can be any [intimidation factor]. My first year in Detroit, being the quality control coach, I was also the semi-quarterback coach, and Kitna said 'I don't care what you've done in the past, your job is to make sure if you can help me with one thing, if you can show me one little coaching point, that's all that matters.' ''
It's a pretty astute approach, and look where it's gotten Gase so far. Maybe Manning is right. Everything about him seems bright. Especially his coaching future.