Three strikes and Mike LaFleur is out.
The Jets decided to make a change at offensive coordinator Wednesday after a disastrous finish to the season that included failing to score a touchdown in each of their final three games with LaFleur calling plays.
The search for a replacement is underway, but the Jets, even with a stable of young offensive talent, could find it difficult to lure an attractive candidate given the uncertainty at quarterback, Zach Wilson’s regression and the win-now urgency facing head coach Robert Saleh in his third season.
Saleh went to bat for LaFleur late in the season — drawing on his own experience as a coordinator and how 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan stuck by him during rough times — but the numbers were too ugly to ignore. It prompted speculation around the NFL that team owner Woody Johnson — who was not running the team when Saleh and his staff were hired — forced the decision, though general manager Joe Douglas recently said all staff decisions are Saleh’s.
Weeks of speculation around LaFleur’s job security during and after a season-ending six-game losing streak prompted multiple teams to inquire about his availability, a source told The Post. Internal discussions followed and the decision was made to allow LaFleur, 36, to pursue other opportunities.
The Jets ranked No. 29 in scoring (17.4 points per game), No. 25 in total offense (318.2 yards per game) and No. 31 in red-zone touchdown percentage (43.5 percent) while changing quarterbacks six times this season. Add to that uncertainty the season-ending injuries to dynamic rookie running back Breece Hall (Week 7), and starting offensive linemen Mekhi Becton (preseason) and Alijah Vera-Tucker (Week 7), and the time missed by other key pieces like receiver Corey Davis and offensive linemen Duane Brown and George Fant.
It was too much for a defense ranked No. 4 in scoring and yards allowed per game to overcome.
“This is Year 2 of commitment to go young everywhere,” Saleh said on Jan. 2. “Coaches, players, staff, everybody, and it’s so important to take a deep breath, keep the main thing the main thing, and make sure we do a great job with regards to self-scouting, evaluation, and make sure that we’re telling ourselves the truth rather than allowing narrative and panic to set in.”
On one hand, the Jets offer a play-caller the chance to work with potential Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson and fellow young receiver Elijah Moore, as well as Hall and Vera-Tucker. On the other, is next year’s starting quarterback on the roster?
The second season for Wilson, the 2021 No. 2-overall draft pick, included two benchings, though Saleh and Douglas remain committed (at least publicly) to tapping into his raw talent. Mike White showed some promise but continued to have a hard time staying healthy and is an unrestricted free agent
The Jets are expected to again be spenders in free agency, and the quarterback market might include veterans Jimmy Garoppolo — who has a relationship with Saleh from the 49ers — and Derek Carr. Garoppolo made a lot of sense when LaFleur was calling plays because of the similarity in system to Shanahan’s.
Saleh lamented not having a veteran voice involved in the offensive game-planning and quarterback development his season. He parted ways with Matt Cavanaugh, who was hired in the middle of Saleh’s first season after original staffer Greg Knapp was tragically killed when his bicycle was struck by a vehicle.
With that in mind, perhaps the Jets will target an experienced play-caller rather than the next whiz kid. Offensive-minded former Texans and Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak, who helped jump-start Saleh’s coaching career with a couple of promotions in Houston, retired as Vikings coordinator after the 2020 season. He is 61.
It is difficult to envision LaFleur resurfacing as a play-caller in 2023. He was the passing game coordinator for the 49ers from 2017-20 and also worked with receivers. Though a return to San Francisco is possible, Shanahan’s tree also presents landing spots with Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel and, most logically, with his older brother, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. Saleh and the older LaFleur are as close as brothers, so there was no doubt a personal element to this change.
Brian Schottenheimer is the last Jets offensive coordinator to last more than two seasons (2006-11).