Robert Saleh, 9/11, NY Jets head coach
Robert Saleh, NY Jets, Getty Images

Robert Saleh remembers the impact that 9/11 had on his life

The 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001’s tragic events has offered a time of reflection for New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh.

Saleh’s path toward becoming the Jets’ coach indirectly began in the midst of one of the darkest days in American history. His older brother David was partaking in a financial advisor training program with Morgan Stanley in the South Tower of the World Trade Center complex’s Twin Towers when a hijacked airplane struck the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. ET.

The elder Saleh escaped the building as another hijacked airliner struck it 17 minutes later. Several tense hours passed before David was able to call his family to let them know he was safe.

Those hours left a lasting impact on Robert Saleh, who left his own job in finance five months later to embark on a career in coaching. He would later become a graduate assistant at Michigan State University, starting a path that is currently bookended by stops with green gridiron squads.

Robert Saleh will recount his story in an exclusive interview with ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The segment will air on the network’s pregame program Sunday NFL Countdown (10 a.m. ET, ESPN), hours before he partakes in his first game as an NFL head coach in Carolina (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

In a preview released earlier this week, Robert Saleh admits the fateful day changed the course of his life.

“9/11 is the reason I left the banking world to pursue coaching,” Saleh tells Schefter in the preview shared by ESPN.

Robert Saleh had been a lauded tight end at Division II North Michigan, but his NFL dreams were not to be realized. He took a job at Comerica Bank upon his college graduation in 2002 but his brother’s near-death experience encouraged him not to waste however much time he had left. To make the most of the rest of his life, Robert knew there was only one place he could accomplish that: the football field.

“I felt like I was stuck in a cage, and the only way I could get out is if I forced my way out,” Robert Saleh told Ian O’Connor of the New York Post at Jets practice this week. “I knew it was going to be a journey. I just knew this was the life I was supposed to have.”

When Robert made that decision in February 2003, David was the first one he called.

“He felt like he was in the movie Office Space,” David recalled to O’Connor, referencing the 1999 comedy film whose main protagonist becomes disillusioned with a desk job. “He’s not a crier, but he was crying this time like he had snot everywhere and couldn’t breathe. He said, ‘I can’t take it anymore. I have to be on the football field.’”

Saleh would hold graduate assistant roles at Michigan State, Central Michigan, and Georgia before the Houston Texans added him to their staff in 2005. He has remained an NFL staple ever since, culminating with his metropolitan hiring in January. David will be in attendance on Sunday to see his brother’s NFL head coaching debut, according to O’Connor.

The Jets have released a video, narrated by Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath, in observance of the tragic event’s 20th anniversary.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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Geoff Magliocchetti is a veteran football writer with years of credentialed experience with the Jets and Giants. Email:
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