NEW YORK (AP) — The sales pitch from the Jets to prospective head coaching candidates begins with Sam Darnold.
Everything else is a distant second.
Sure, being in the New York/New Jersey area is an obvious attraction, and Jets chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson spun his own take on a classic line by saying earlier this week that if you succeed in the Big Apple, "you're a freaking legend."
But it's hard to even get close to that status without a franchise quarterback. A quick look through Jets history is all it takes to prove that. It's Broadway Joe — and a 50-year wait for a Super Bowl return. And counting.
Darnold, though, provides promise for frustrated fans that he might be The One. He's a 21-year-old, redheaded symbol of hope in a smart, athletic and still-developing quarterback who has his sights firmly set on being great.
That's what will excite coaching candidates and free agents the most, with the fact the Jets and general manager Mike Maccagnan have about $100 million in salary cap space to play with this offseason and the No. 3 overall draft pick an added bonus.
"Now we're going to be able to build with Sam," Johnson said, "build around Sam and with some great players we have on this team already."
The Jets' brass was in Kansas City on Wednesday to kick off the team's interviews, sitting down with Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. New York is also expected to schedule meetings with the likes of former Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Todd Monken, Dallas passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach Kris Richard, former Detroit and Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell and USC offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury.
Whoever is hired as Todd Bowles' replacement will report directly to Johnson and not Maccagnan, a structure the owner believes works. Maccagnan will have a major say in the hire, though, working closely with Johnson and VP of player development Brian Heimerdinger to find the coach who will attempt to end the team's eight-year postseason drought.
And, with Darnold leading the way.
"The person doesn't have to be an offensive- or defensive-minded coach, per se," Maccagnan said. "But we definitely want to make sure they have a plan in place to develop our young quarterback in Sam Darnold."
Darnold had an up-and-down rookie season after being drafted with the No. 3 overall pick. He was the second quarterback selected, two spots after Baker Mayfield went to Cleveland — which is looking for a coach of its own and also has a potential face of the franchise as a major selling point.
The final stats for Darnold are mediocre, at best: 2,865 yards, 57.7 percent completion rate, 17 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 77.6 quarterback rating in 13 games. But, it's the way he finished that has the organization feeling so good.
In the four games after returning from a foot injury that sidelined him for three contests, Darnold was 80 of 125 (64 percent) for 931 yards and six touchdowns with one INT. He showed clear improvement in his ability to see the field, read defenses, be smart with the football and wasn't as skittish behind an offensive line that struggled mightily early in the season.
"I thought in the beginning of the year, I took a while to get comfortable and then once I got comfortable in the offense and how things were, I felt very confident when I was out there," Darnold said. "Again, just going to keep growing and keep trying to make those strides and watch the tape. See how I can get better and move forward from there."
Darnold won't have a direct role in the decision-making process, but hoped to chat with management to share his perspective on the situation. And, the Jets are planning to give him some preliminary face-time with the man who might be his coach.
"Given the opportunity, I'd like the potential head coaches that come through here to have a chance to spend a little time with him just so they get a feel for Sam," Maccagnan said. "I do think that's actually one of the attractive parts of our job is that we have some good, young players. Again, we still have things we need to do and improve upon, but we have a lot of salary cap space. We have our draft picks and the idea of potentially working with a young quarterback like Sam is an attractive thing."
Darnold isn't concerned about the potential changes that coincide with the arrival of a new coach. He can adapt, he insisted, and simply wants to win.
"I'm confident that whatever offense is here and whoever the coordinator is, whether it's the head coach or an offensive coordinator," Darnold said, "I'm confident in my ability to be able to run an offense and lead that way."
The Jets' final pick will be linked with Darnold moving forward — and maybe for many years. The young quarterback would like this to be the last coaching change of his NFL career.
"You always want someone to come in here and provide stability and hopefully we can win a lot of games together," Darnold said. "That's always the goal."
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