Broncos' play caller almost took path of insurance salesman instead
Englewood, Colo. • At the age of 35, Adam Gase is in charge of calling plays for one of the NFL's all-time juggernauts.
Consider the list of football minds who shaped his football education.
There was Nick Saban, who hired Gase at Michigan State, then again at LSU.
There was Mike Martz, who trained Gase as a quarterbacks coach with the Lions. There was Steve Mariucci, who once hired Gase as an intern with the Lions.
"He actually came to us as an entry-level guy," Mariucci, now an analyst with NFL Network, said Wednesday. "I felt he was very ambitious, a good worker."
The list of Gase's influences goes on and on, much like the scoring records under fire by this Broncos offense.
So which one of those seasoned lifers made the pivotal contribution to Gase's coaching career? Try his college buddies.
"One of my buddies, I don't think I lived more than 50 feet away from him for four years of college," Gase said. "And I feel like I owe those guys my career."
How's that for a twist?
Here was the scenario, as Gase explained it to me: After two years at LSU, as a graduate assistant on Saban's staff, the 23-year-old felt his football path had come to a dead end.
His focus switched to another opportunity: "I told my college buddies, 'Hey, I think I'm going to interview for this insurance job in Mount Pleasant, Mich. It looks like a good job.'"
The reaction was if Gase had told his college buddies: Sorry, guys. No more beer pong.
"All three of them went nuts," Gase said. "They're yelling at me: Are you kidding me? Are you crazy? You get to be in football and do what you want to do! That's dumb!"
Now here we are, a decade later, and Gase is the offensive coordinator for a team doing things we've never seen before, with a quarterback doing things we've never seen before. The Broncos average 46 points, tops in NFL history through five games. They've scored 52 and 51 points in the past two games. No team has scored 50 in three straight, and Jacksonville (0-5) is up next.
Gase has gone from almost climbing the insurance ladder in Mount Pleasant to climbing the NFL ladder and calling the plays for Mount Peyton.
"There was some luck involved," Gase allowed.
Eh, I'm not a luck guy. It looks more like Gase made his own.
He caught some nifty breaks, sure, like the time Saban left Michigan State for LSU and his entire staff stayed back at Michigan State.
"I was the only one who went with him," Gase said.
Or the time a scout from the Lions, who often went to LSU to evaluate its NFL prospects, got him in the door with the Lions. Mariucci, the new coach in Detroit, needed two interns to break down tape of draft prospects.
"He (Gase) was a Michigan State guy," Mariucci told me. "So that may have had something to do with it."
"Mariucci was like, 'I've got a six-month gig for you.' So I did that," Gase recalled. "Then he asked me to stick around for the season. So then I did that."
Or the time the Lions were set to hire John Ramsdell, who had been the QB coach for Mike Martz in St. Louis. But San Diego hired Ramsdell first.
"So Martz came to me and goes, 'I'm going to train you to be a quarterbacks coach,'" Gase said. "Next thing you know I'm the quarterbacks coach. I think I was 26 or 27."
OK, so maybe there was a touch of luck involved.
This is Gase's first season as the Broncos' OC. Given their hellacious scoring numbers, I sought an inside look at his game-planning sessions with Manning.
"We are very, very open in that offensive room. There's a give-and-take. You can't be sensitive. It's a very honest environment," Gase said. "And that's a good thing. There's no whispering. If there's something that needs to be fixed, you'll know about it.
"All of us are straightforward. If there's a problem, let's bring it out."
Listen closely, and you will hear Manning most often characterize Gase's play-calling as "aggressive."
Sunday's barnburner at Dallas offered a fine example: With the score tied and less than 2 minutes left, the Broncos were deep in Cowboys territory.
Instead of calling a running play, the safer route to a field-goal attempt, Gase called for a Manning pass to Julius Thomas.
"I thought we were aggressive with the play call," Manning said Wednesday.
Was Gase's rise through the NFL ladder simply being in the right place at the right time?
Maybe a little, sure.
Back in the day, however, he could have called a running play, to sell insurance.
Instead, he passed.
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