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New York Jets make it clear with Robert Saleh hire: Playtime is over

Joe Douglas, Robert Saleh, Christopher Johnson
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Jets have made it crystal clear that playtime is over via the Robert Saleh hire and the organization’s structural change.

It’s commonplace for ownership to become smitten with a certain individual. New York City saw it when Isiah Thomas was in town. Jim Dolan positively loved the man. No matter the season’s results, Thomas seemingly could do no wrong. Even after his dismissal, Thomas heading back to Madison Square Garden to help run the New York Liberty had basketball fans bewildered.

The same idea could be applied to how Woody Johnson felt about Rex Ryan, the man who swooped down to deliver immediate New York Jets relevance. Back-to-back AFC championship game appearances combined with headline-grabbing noise brought the organization fame and infamy simultaneously. So much so that not even HBO could resist.

But sometimes, that idyllic choice brings tunnel vision. Dolan waited far too long to cut ties with Thomas and Johnson did the same in regards to Rex. A once-dominant roster (sans a quarterback) slowly but surely dissolved under Ryan’s leadership. This led to a decade of horrible drafting and player development.

Many a time has New York ownership thought it had hired “the right guy,” only for the “next right guy” to arrive a couple of years too late.

That’s called “playtime,” a sports idea that deals with fantasy and good vibes over hard and objective decision making. As cold as it sounds, emotionless decision-making must be separated from personal relationships—whether that comes in the form of owner and general manager or head coach and player.

The Jets made it clear that playtime is over the moment they hired Robert Saleh.

Saleh, 41, took to the virtual stage Thursday afternoon for his introductory presser. Having no ties to the Jets organization, chairman Christopher Johnson or general manager Joe Douglas prior to his first interview a couple of weeks ago, Saleh delivered his official opening remarks with a cool and calm demeanor.

In Saleh’s football world, it’s “All gas, no brake,” the team’s unofficial motto moving forward.

“To our players, myself and the entire coaching staff are beyond excited to work with each and every single one of you,” Saleh said Thursday afternoon via Zoom. “We’re going to do this thing together. For our organization, get used to the mantra, ‘All gas, no brake.'”

The hire marks a departure not just from the previous head coach’s personality, but it also corrects a decade of questionable structure. Since Woody took control of the organization over 20 years ago, the front office setup has the head coach and general manager on the same hierarchical level most of the time. Both men reported to ownership.

While many organizations use the same structure, it’s certainly not optimal—not in football.

Livelihoods are quite literally on the line every day in the NFL. One poor decision could mean the difference between a tremendous future or a disappointing flameout. When drafting or deciding on a certain personnel move, one clear voice must loom larger than the rest. Not only that, but one clear voice must be the man discussing things with ownership.

Even when intentions are most genuine, multiple communication channels can muddy the waters. Christopher Johnson put an end to any future trouble in that area by officially changing the organizational structure.

“That structure has changed,” Johnson said. “Joe will report to (ownership), Robert will report to Joe. It seems a clean and simple way to do things, but honestly not much really changes. We have very good communication already. I don’t think that that’s going to alter things here all that much.”

Perhaps Johnson’s right. Maybe the structural change doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.

If true, why change it at all?

Perhaps the one great thing Adam Gase did for the organization dealt with the front office. Gase entered with Mike Maccagnan readying himself for his fifth NFL draft. Rumors of dissension between the two strangers hit headlines almost immediately. Maccagnan’s firing led to anger throughout Jets media, as it was previously believed the struggling general manager was safe.

The story was simple to spot: Yet again, Gase blows another organization up.

But what if it took Gase to allow Christopher Johnson to realize his missteps with Maccagnan? Remember, Mikey Mac’s first season was a good one. A 10-win season on the heels of his “aggressive rebuild” had the Jets seemingly sailing in the right direction. Like Rex, Maccagnan and Todd Bowles had hit the jackpot in a debut season. To not be smitten would be a tough thing.

A year and change later, Woody Johnson heads overseas and Christopher is left to hope Maccagnan knows his stuff. Clearly, he didn’t. The cupcake 2015 schedule might have been one of the worst things to happen to the organization. Instead of inspecting the previous half-decade of poor drafting—done with John Idzik and Ryan mainly leading the charge—the future was perceived as bright.

Robert Saleh
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Until it wasn’t. By the time Maccagnan changed course prior to 2017, another rebuild was on the horizon. A few poor drafts later now has Douglas truly starting from scratch.

Perhaps Gase helped Christopher understand Maccagnan’s shortcomings. Perhaps Douglas helped Christopher understand Gase’s shortcomings. Douglas and Saleh together, for the first time since the Eric Mangini and Mike Tannenbaum duo, represent a true general manager-head coach duo that values the process.

It’s not about results when building a program—as crazy as it sounds. Football is never about stats alone. It’s not even about the final score. When looking to build a truly special program, the human side factors into the equation far more than the common man understands.

“When we talk about, “All gas, no break,” we’re not talking about effort on the field, we’re talking about the process at which we do things,” Saleh said. “We’re talking about the way we prepare, the way we wake up every single morning, the way we rehab, the way we communicate, the way we speak to one another.”

A cornerback who gives up a touchdown while doing everything correctly is much more of a positive than a bad beat that sees the quarterback luckily overthrow the receiver. Saleh understands it’s about the process, for he’s already reached out to every single player on the roster.

We’re already well aware of Douglas’s process-loving ways. Hell, it goes hand in hand with his culture speak that far too many onlookers confuse with something that doesn’t exist. Ultimately, the most important takeaway is that Saleh represents a complete 180 from the previous guy.

The term anti-Gase has been thrown around a bit too much lately. Sure, Saleh does represent the anti-Gase. Instead of stiffness, there’s calm. Instead of curiosity, there’s concreteness. Instead of a one-track mindset, there are over-arching values.

New York Jets, Jets X-Factor

Gase was brought in to develop Sam Darnold. What it led to was double the trouble from a multi-channel standpoint. Not only did both Gase and Douglas report to ownership, but the Jets seemingly employed two head coaches. Gase controlled the offense while Gregg Williams handled the defense.

Whenever somebody can claim there isn’t one clear boss, trouble is more likely to surface.

For instance, think back on the previous three Jet general managers. Tannenbaum clearly came from a financial background. So did Idzik—sort of, as it’s still not clear what he excelled at prior to his Jets arrival. Maccagnan didn’t, but it wasn’t like he was tearing the scouting world on fire prior to his Jet employment. The Mangini and Rex days often had “Jet decision” coming from the organization.

Due to Tannenbaum’s and Idzik’s financial backgrounds, most believed Mangini and Rex had a huge say in personnel decisions. And it makes sense when looking at how brilliant the Mangini-Tannenbaum regime was as opposed to the Ryan-Tannenbaum combo.

The same general manager produced extremely different player drafting and development results. The Idzik hire seemed like one last-ditch effort for Rex to save the day—which obviously didn’t happen. If Jets fans had to hear Idzik talk around a personnel decision one more time, they may have jumped from the tallest building in 2014.

It felt as though Rex had too much say over personnel. It felt as though the Maccagnan-Bowles marriage was a forced one. It felt as though Gase and Maccagnan were never meant to work. What everybody felt could vary greatly thanks to uncertainty in the vision and the structure of the football setup.

What everybody feels right now is distinct and in unison.

Although Saleh and Douglas did not arrive at the same time, their contracts now coincide with one another. And although they were complete strangers a few weeks ago, Douglas, the one clear football voice of the organization, led the head-coaching hiring show.

It’s as though Douglas and Saleh are cut from the same football cloth. Not even play-calling duties can get in the way of Saleh’s winning objective. What the previous coach labeled as the “most fun part of the job,” Saleh had already dished off to defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. The trust in that action alone at this early date goes a long way.

It’s the sort of trust that helps the Jets become an attractive place for impending free agents (or a certain Houston Texans quarterback). It’s the sort of trust that started when the Jets inexplicably won two-consecutive games with Trevor Lawrence staring right into their souls.

If you don’t think winning no matter the situation is critical in the long-run, you simply haven’t been paying attention to this league and this sport. Never does one player change the fortunes of a franchise alone. Not even the misguided and ill-conceived headlines bashing the organization would stop players from wanting to join Douglas and Saleh when the process is correct and evident.

“Unfair, clearly,” Saleh said when asked if the Jets’ dysfunctional perception is fair. “It’s like I said earlier, there’s a clear vision on what Christopher Johnson wants, there’s a clear vision on what Joe Douglas wants, there’s a clear vision on what Hymie wants and together that vision is very unified.”

Who knows where Saleh would be right now had the Jets gone 0-16. Who knows if the Deshaun Watson rumors are even a thing. Again, the process is what matters most.

No more Rex Ryan boastfulness without his own personnel-evaluating results featuring a full house or at least three of a kind. No more John Idzik’s along for the ride status. No more Mike Maccagnan’s suddenly changing courses—an aggressive rebuild into a real rebuild only to desperately sign two veteran players (Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley) when the team had no business doing so without a proper personnel infrastructure. No more Charley Casserly helping the Jets pick their next football boss. No more Adam Gase serving as the offensive head coach—a position that doesn’t exist.

Playtime is over. Credit Christopher Johnson for ultimately getting it right. In Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh, the New York Jets have two football guys who genuinely understand that the process is king when building a football program.

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