Robert Saleh is a natural-born leader
On Wednesday, Robert Saleh was asked about his approach regarding disciplinary actions in practice, such as laps or push-ups. This question was likely asked as a result of the New York Giants’ recent practice brawl.
Head coach Joe Judge, who was already known for frequently making his players run laps for mistakes in practice, forced his team to go through a gauntlet of sprints and push-ups.
Saleh’s answer caught my attention.
How does Robert Saleh feel about disciplining players with laps or push ups? He's not a big fan:
"For me, it's more about creating accountability with self rather than forcing accountability. These players are grown men" pic.twitter.com/AvLYnRbNEr
— Jets Videos (@snyjets) August 4, 2021
“There are many ways to do it. For me, it’s more to try to create accountability with self, rather than forcing accountability. These players are grown men. To give them the opportunity to correct themselves will always happen first,” Saleh says.
“They’re not trying to make the mistake. All we can do is help them understand how the mistake was made so they don’t do it again.”
Saleh is dead-on here. This answer is one of many Saleh has given this offseason that provides a glimpse into the special traits that set his mindset and philosophy apart from other coaches.
Making players run grueling drills in response to a mistake is a tactic that was designed for young kids who are still working on developing the high-level discipline and drive that is necessary to find success as an athlete. Instilling a strong work ethic in young players is imperative if they are going to cultivate the habits that are necessary to achieve high-level success. So, absolutely, these drills are great at the amateur level.
This isn’t high school, though. This is the NFL.
These are millionaire athletes who have already worked for the majority of their lives to prove they are in the top 0.1% of their profession worldwide. They would not be in the position they are in without an absurd amount of accountability, discipline, and drive.
Thus, in my opinion, making professional athletes run sprints and push-ups is a complete waste of time. It doesn’t improve their conditioning; these guys are already working on that 365 days a year. It doesn’t improve their accountability or discipline, either. Again, they wouldn’t be professional athletes if they did not already have those traits.
The time used making world-class athletes do push-ups could be used to help them improve their technique or master the scheme – things that actually make a difference between winning and losing. Judge is one of many coaches who are stuck in the old-school “football guy” mindset, still worried about things like “hard work,” “toughness,” and “grinding” far more than they should be.
News flash – every player in the NFL is tough and works hard, save for a select few whose deficiencies in those areas are immediately recognized and leave them on the street looking for a new job.
Saleh is not cut from the “football guy” cloth. From the first time he spoke at his introductory press conference, it was obvious that Saleh was not just another cookie-cutter coach who was going to preach about cliches and focus on pointless tough-guy nonsense.
Rather, it was visibly apparent that he had a good grasp of what truly mattered. An intellectual thinker who focuses on the important details and does not blabber “football guy” jargon, Saleh made it clear that his primary goal was to establish a positive culture through his ability to build a web of personal connections throughout the entire organization.
“I believe coaches and players are in this thing together,” Saleh said during his first press conference with the Jets. “Players want two things from a coach. First, they want to know you care about their well-being. As a coach you make a personal investment in people. And two, can you help them make enough plays on Sundays for them to get paid as much as possible?”
Saleh is a psychological genius. He has an extraordinary feel for the emotional and mental needs of the human mind and uses it to understand what needs to be done to get the most out of the people under his leadership.
From a relationship standpoint, Saleh is an innate communicator who has an understanding of how to connect with people on a human, man-to-man level. He is focused on getting to know every guy in the room and letting them know that he is there for them, both on and off the field, and that he wants them to succeed.
It’s not just Saleh’s one-on-one charisma that stands out; it’s his group leadership, too. There is an immense amount of positive energy that emanates from Saleh every time he speaks, and it seems to have spread throughout the entire organization.
There is already plenty of evidence supporting that theory. New teammates who are just getting to know each other were spotted spending time together off the field on an unusually frequent basis throughout the offseason. Practices have an energetic vibe in which it seems players are committed and working hard, but also having fun and creating good relationships with one another and the coaching staff.
Building this type of environment breeds desired traits like accountability and motivation on a natural level, rather than shoving it down player’s throats like the football guys try to do.
When you play the “tough guy” card too aggressively, you can lose control of your team. There are already some signs coming from the other side of town that Judge’s old-school philosophies could be backfiring.
In his very first practice with the Giants, coming just hours after signing with the team, veteran offensive lineman Joe Looney was forced to run laps after snapping the ball early in a drill.
Speaking about the laps, Looney said, “That’s something I ain’t done since Little League. But you know what? I loved it. It’s another way to hold us accountable as professionals. If you make a mistake, you’re going to have to run a lap for it. You know, I’m all about it. It holds us accountable at the end of the day.”
Looney probably didn’t love the laps as much as he claimed. He announced his retirement two days later.
In late July, tight end Kelvin Benjamin (who had converted from wide receiver) was released by the team after a scuffle with Judge. Benjamin later said that Judge claimed he was 15 pounds overweight, whereas Benjamin claims he had only gained three pounds of muscle since minicamp. He ensuingly retired.
The Giants also saw 29-year-old linebacker Todd Davis retire on Tuesday.
It is extremely difficult to picture any of these things happening under Saleh’s watch.
Why? Because Saleh knows that at a level of sport where he is responsible for coaching dozens of multi-millionaires with huge egos, he needs to connect with them, not try to control them.
Rather than make a defensive tackle do push-ups after committing a dumb penalty, Saleh will pull him aside and chat with him about how he can do better. Some might say this is “soft” and that the player needs to be disciplined more aggressively, but the key here is that Saleh will likely be able to get his message through to this player because he has probably already established a positive relationship with him that involves mutual trust.
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Another important note is that every person learns differently. Some players might need to be lit into to learn lessons and gain motivation. Many others just want a coach who has a friendly relationship with them and teaches them in a non-aggressive manner.
If you marry yourself to coaching with a single mentality, you are going to alienate players who do not respond well to that type of leadership.
Saleh has shown that he has a beautiful blend of tenacity and cordiality that should allow him to connect with any personality. After hearing Saleh speak so calmly and intelligently for months, it is easy to forget that the cerebral, amicable leader is also capable of displaying this manic energy.
The only thing better than the 49ers defense is how FIRED UP it makes their DC Robert Saleh pic.twitter.com/HpAmmR3Jlc
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 13, 2019
What more can you ask for?
Saleh has the best of both worlds. Not only does he care deeply about and thrive at creating friendly one-on-one relationships with his team, but he can galvanize with his vein-popping intensity. People will easily gravitate to that type of person – a smart and approachable teacher who can dial up the energy to 100 when the time is right.
“You have to put yourself in players’ shoes,” Saleh said at his introductory press conference. “They get drafted. They need a personal investment in them so they can get to that second contract and be rewarded. Players should expect that from their coaches and from their organizations … Players are human. Make sure they understand that you want what they want: to get them where they want to go.”
Robert Saleh just plain gets it. He knows how people and relationships work. The man is not going to build a team around overrated old-school philosophies that professional athletes do not need to succeed.
He’s in Florham Park to enact a culture in which players, coaches, and staff members believe and trust one another to the point where they organically develop high-level accountability and motivation along with the burning desire to be a Jet.