If it was a secret, it’s not anymore. Even though he’s from Marshall, Michigan, a small town between Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, Adam Gase grew up a Bears fan.
Walter Payton was a favorite, but so was a former Bears quarterback who remains one of the most notable personalities in the football world.
“The one that I did like later, who was my favorite player, was Jim Harbaugh,” Gase said of the former 49ers and current Michigan head coach. “It was interesting the first time I met him at the combine. I’m pretty sure I didn’t say anything.
“I was like, ‘That’s Jim Harbaugh!’ ”
Ironically, it was Gase who nearly replaced Harbaugh in San Francisco after his noted separation. Gase, who was the coordinator of the Broncos’ prolific offense, was a hot name on the head-coaching circuit last year.
Gase was interviewed by the Bears in Denver before the Broncos’ divisional round playoff game against the Colts. That would be before Denver parted ways with John Fox and the Bears named Ryan Pace general manager.
As fate would have it, Gase, who goes by “Goose,” would still land a dream job.
“This has been a great thing to happen to me personally because I’ve always loved cheering for, rooting for the Bears,” Gase told the Sun-Times in an interview at Halas Hall. “Now being involved in the organization, I could be part of helping us go in the right direction and help coach Fox to get this thing rolling.”
As offensive coordinator, Gase will be influential in any turnaround. He is the architect of Jay Cutler’s next offense, and players rave about what he’s implementing. His philosophies and schemes have been called empowering.
At 37, Gase is the Bears’ wunderkind coach.
“He’s got a brilliant mind,” running back Matt Forte said.
From Manning to Cutler
Peyton Manning’s connection with Gase lives on through Gase’s phone. On it, there are old voice memos, which Manning enjoyed making and leaving for Gase at all hours.
It was one of their ways of communicating. It helped fine-tune an offense that was first and second in scoring with Gase calling the plays the past two seasons.
“He thought it was funny because he knew it was like 12 minutes where I would have to sit there, and his kids would be walking in and out of the room, and he’d be talking to them,” Gase said. “I’d have to sit there and listen to it. It was funny. I still have them.”
Cutler is different. He’s “a big FaceTime guy,” Gase said. But Cutler’s pursuits are similar to Manning’s memos — he wants to get the offense down — but the visual aspect makes it unique.
“What do these guys want to see? How I’m looking? Uh, it’s not a good idea,” Gase said laughing. “[Cutler has] got a great grasp of the offense, but it’s like, if we change something up, ‘How do you want me to do this?’ ”
Gase, who is five years older than Cutler, is the youngest coordinator to work with the quarterback at Halas Hall. Cutler has acknowledged a natural connection, and players say Gase’s youthfulness has helped them connect. He’s easy to talk to about anything.
Just not music.
“There is still 13, 12 or 10 years difference,” Gase said. “That’s a big age gap. When I grew up in high school and college, it was when alternative music first came out. I was Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Foo Fighters, all that stuff. Now, [the music is] just a completely different animal.”
If anything, it’s Gase’s use of technology that helps. He’s grown up through all the advancements from Beta tapes to iPads.
“A lot of the presentations we do, everything has to be quick, to the point — you don’t waste time,” Gase said. “I almost feel like you’re on a game show, and we’ve got to get them to pay attention for his amount of time and move on to something else.
“It’s trying to find different teaching tools to get these guys to learn it, absorb it and then be able to execute it.”
Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler said meetings over his three years with Gase were never dull.
“A lot of that has to do with probably about 10 cups of coffee,” Gase said of his own caffeine intake. “To do this, you have to be a little bit different. The red and the blue wires have to touch. . . . And I talk really loud, so I mean, no one’s falling asleep.”
But it’s Gase’s X’s and O’s that also helped transition a Broncos offense from Tim Tebow to Manning.
“Coach Gase always had us prepared for whoever our opponent was,” Osweiler said. “Some of the things that he prepares for each of the games is truly brilliant.”
More McDaniels than Martz
There were older, more experienced candidates that Fox seriously considered after offensive coordinator Mike McCoy left the Broncos to coach the Chargers in 2013. But pairing Gase with Manning, a surefire Hall of Famer, felt like the right fit. It didn’t mater that Manning was older than Gase.
“Watching Adam work that year (2012) as a quarterbacks coach actually is what sold me — the imagination, the kind of detail he had in his coaching, the personality to fit with that position and just really with players in general,” Fox said. “It was kind of an easy decision to have him be the coordinator.”
From Mike Martz and Nick Saban, Gase’s past features big-name influences. But it’s Josh McDaniels, a 39-year-old offensive wunderkind himself, who has resonated the most.
McDaniels, who is currently the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, hired Gase as his receivers coach in 2009 when he was the head coach of the Broncos.
“I was like all-in on [Martz], as far as what he taught,” said Gase, who didn’t play college football. “When I got with Josh, it was just different, a different style to approach the game. It made a lot of sense to me and started to head in that direction.”
The difference was the differences.
“It was just each week was a completely different game plan,” Gase said. “You did what was best versus that defense, and you were able to be fluid and adjust your scheme to put you in the best possible position to win that week.
“It was tailored more to who you had, what players you had, being able to be fluid and not just be stuck in this is what we do and this is our systems.”
Right places, right times
In June, Sports Illustrated ranked “The Best Men In Line To Become Bosses” for the ever-changing world of NFL head coaches. No. 1 was Gase, who began his NFL career as a Lions’ scouting assistant in 2003. A successful season with Cutler as his quarterback would ensure that for him.
“It’s really hard to worry about,” Gase said. “I want to make sure I do a really good job for this group. For me to look any further, it’s not fair to our players who are putting in so much time and effort to make this thing right.”
All the interviews for head-coaching jobs last year might have actually made Gase a better coach.
“I have a different respect for what coach Fox goes through on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “He has to deal with some things that just aren’t fun. That’s when the job gets tough.”
The Bears don’t have Manning, but Gase’s effect on the players is important. Like Fox, they’ve gravitated toward Gase. The quarterbacks don’t see a coach who didn’t play their position even in college.
“It hasn’t really hindered his ability to call plays or put himself in our shoes,” quarterback David Fales said. “He takes care of the quarterback.”
Forte believes him when he says he’ll run the football.
“It gives you a lot more confidence and a better relationship with the coordinator,” he said. “He’s able to put the players in the best position to make a play.”
When every single player says that, it means something.
“The biggest thing about Adam is that he’s open-minded,” tight end Martellus Bennett said. “His thing is that he crafts roles to the abilities of the player, which is awesome because it’s empowering for the player.”
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