A good read.
WHY ROBERT SALEH CHOSE THE JETS
Robert Saleh knew he’d get a bunch of head-coach interviews coming out of the 2020 season and, as all coaches in that spot do, the 49ers’ defensive coordinator spent some time researching each of the teams he’d sit down with. He wound up interviewing with six of the seven teams with openings (the Texans being the exception), and met with three of them (the Jets, Eagles and Chargers) in person
Most of the background he dug up checked out. But there was one exception.
“A lot of the interviews, you go through it, and you’re like, Huh, that’s exactly what people told me it was gonna be,” Saleh told me late Friday. “When I walked into the Jets [interview], the Zoom call, it was like, Oh, that wasn’t that bad. I was expecting something different. I was expecting something disorganized. Instead, what I got was a very organized interview, a very collaborative interview. It felt like it was done really, really well by them.
“And then I was brought here, and you can take every preconceived notion and you can take all the perception and throw it out the window, of what people think of this place, just because of the way [owner] Christopher Johnson, [GM] Joe Douglas and [president] Hymie Elhai were.”
So much so that when Saleh went to get into his car service ride to head off to Florida for his interview with the Eagles, he texted his wife, Sanaa: Honey, if they call, we’re going to New York. They later called and, in a twist befitting Saleh’s good feeling for the organization, he did more than take the job—he actively chose the Jets.
It’s hard to say whether Saleh would’ve gotten multiple offers if he’d waited for things to play out a little longer. What I know is that the fact that Saleh didn’t feel the need to wait is a serious step forward for the organization.
Saleh explained that he very much liked Johnson’s manner, calling the outgoing controlling owner (Christopher’s brother Woody is coming back from his stint as U.S. ambassador to the U.K.) “a sweetheart of a man.” He liked Elhai’s vision, after seeing 21 years of ups and downs from inside the organization, for establishing a healthier, more collaborative environment. And he loved what Douglas was looking for. “Joe genuinely wants a teammate,” he said. “You could feel that. You can feel that he’s looking for someone to partner with.”
“I really believe in people, and when you talk to those three, and the fact that they allowed me into the circle, there’s no way those three are gonna fail,” Saleh said. “When you have a combination of people like that, you almost have to be unlucky not to succeed. I really think they’re gonna get this organization moving in the right direction, and so that’s why it was so intriguing and why I was so excited when the call came in that we had an offer.”
Now, the Jets have the longest running playoff drought in the NFL and are coming off a 2–14 year. There’s a lot of work to be done, and Saleh’s already digging through it, with Mike LaFleur and Jeff Ulbrich on board as his offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively. Deciding Sam Darnold’s fate, and whether to take BYU’s Zach Wilson or Ohio State’s Justin Fields with the second pick, is near the top of the list—my understanding is no decision’s been made—and that’s just one area of the roster that needs reworking.
But there are good options to consider at quarterback, at least, and resources (two first-round picks, five picks in the first three rounds, cap space) to take care of the rest. And after seeing good GM-coach relationships firsthand in Houston (Rick Smith–Gary Kubiak), Seattle (John Schneider–Pete Carroll), Jacksonville (Caldwell–Gus Bradley) and San Francisco (John Lynch–Kyle Shanahan), Saleh think he’s got a clue of what will and won’t work as he and Douglas try to align their beliefs.
“[In Jacksonville], on defense, we were able to build that thing, and we built it into a pretty darn good unit. But on offense it just didn’t work out the way we wanted it to,” Saleh said. “And for really similar reasons, it didn’t work out in Houston on the defensive side, until Wade Phillips got there, just from a scheme standpoint. And then you get to San Francisco, same thing, coaches, scouts collaborating, John and Kyle, unbelievable relationship and just a great focal point on scheme, and what we felt it would take in regards to players, scouts, messaging, all of it tied together, and we go to a Super Bowl.”
Saleh continued diving into what made San Francisco work: “There’s conviction on both sides of the ball; we’re gonna get good players here. We’re gonna find ways to make the players who are here fit within the schemes that we have and those players are going to play to their absolute best. When you combine all those aspects together, I think that’s what creates special organizations.”
And very clearly, Saleh said, as he and Douglas went through everything, it was obvious they both saw this aspect of the job the same way—and that’s a heck of a starting point.
In fact, as a guy who came into the process with the potential to have multiple options, Saleh got exactly what he was looking for. It just came from the place where he may have least expected it to.
“We get one shot at this,” Saleh said. “You get one shot to make an impact, and you want to do it not where you have full say or anything, but you want to do it where you know you can work with the people that are in it. This is still a people business, and it is people that make things special. Having the ability to match with somebody who genuinely wants to do this together, and it’s not, Here’s the players I picked, go coach them, that was a very, very big focal point for me as I went through this process.
“And Joe and Hymie and Christopher, the language they spoke, it became a no-brainer.”
Which is something even Saleh himself didn’t see coming.