There should be no doubt about the Jets’ head coach anymore
In the NFL, head coaches are almost exclusively judged by wins and losses.
Great record? Coach of the Year votes (see: Nick Sirianni). Bottom feeder? Job is on the line (Matt Rhule, Frank Reich, and counting).
After the New York Jets went 4-13 in the 2021 season, some whispers began to arise about Robert Saleh‘s leash with the team. Obviously, last year’s iteration of the team included a talent-poor roster and a myriad of injuries. However, following four picks in the top 40 in the draft and a number of key free-agent acquisitions by Joe Douglas, there was some pressure on Saleh to put a respectable product on the field.
Even before the year started, there was some grumbling about the communication surrounding injuries. Mekhi Becton went from “we hope he’ll be okay” to out for the season with a fractured kneecap. Zach Wilson was initially a possibility for Week 1 following his preseason knee injury, but before the opening game, Saleh announced that his starter would not return until Week 4 at the earliest.
To cap that off, the offseason included a trade request from Denzel Mims, one the team mostly ignored.
Early in the 2022 season, following a 1-2 start, the questions started to grow louder. After all, the Jets led only for 22 seconds in those first three games (during the miracle comeback in Cleveland) and had D.J. Reed call out the miscommunication on the defense. Quinnen Williams had a heated argument with defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton on the sideline, and Jeff Ulbrich made some curious comments about Quinnen after the game.
Meanwhile, Jets fans were frustrated with some of the team’s decisions. Mike LaFleur‘s play-calling appeared stale and not well-suited to the personnel. The pricey defensive line was underperforming, and the infamous rotation was seen as the primary culprit. The onus to correct these teamwide issues fell on Saleh.
But Saleh has weathered the storm. He did so after three games, and he has continued to step up when a crisis threatens to overcome the team.
First, it was the crushing loss of both Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker, the team’s best offensive players, for the season. Shortly thereafter, it was Elijah Moore‘s escalation from disgruntlement to a trade request and the surrounding drama. Most recently, it was the locker room’s frustration with Zach Wilson for his putrid play and lack of accountability and the subsequent decision to bench Wilson for Mike White, a scenario that is still playing itself out.
Through it all, Saleh has taken the heat on himself and deflected it from his players while simultaneously providing a solid rationale for his decisions. He mournfully announced the losses of Hall and Vera-Tucker and quickly went on to rally the team around the “next man up” mentality. He did not shy away from the fact that Moore’s trade request was a distraction but maintained a positive outlook on Moore’s character. Saleh said he was going to support the receiver and get him reintegrated into the offense. It took a few weeks, a benching, and some limited snaps, but he has now done just that.
Meanwhile, the biggest test came following the team’s Week 11 loss in Foxborough against the Patriots. That game, even more so than the first New England defeat, had the potential to derail the promising season. It knocked the Jets out of playoff position and cast tremendous doubt on the future of the quarterback position. Saleh initially stood behind Zach Wilson in his postgame press conference.
However, the coach showed his ability to both change his mind and make tough decisions. After announcing that he would be evaluating the team and would not commit to Zach Wilson as the starter for the Week 12 matchup with the Bears, Saleh actually pulled the trigger and inserted Mike White into the starting lineup. In explaining the decision, Saleh reiterated that this was not the nail in the coffin for Wilson.
After Mike White’s strong performance against the Bears, Saleh has stuck by his line that Zach Wilson will see the starting lineup once more. He is even-keel in his decision-making, not getting too hyped over one victory or too down over a defeat. He goes by trends and shows adaptability. If White continues to succeed, Saleh will not switch back to Wilson out of obstinance; he will do what is best for the team.
All this and more has demonstrated Saleh’s excellence as a leader of men. Rather than have the former 49ers defensive coordinator call the Jets’ defense, Joe Douglas wanted Saleh to be the CEO of the team, running the show while delegating appropriately.
Last year and even bleeding over to the beginning of this season, we at Jet X, along with many others, were critical of Jeff Ulbrich and wanted Saleh to overrule some of his defensive decisions. We said that Saleh should instruct Mike LaFleur to let the quarterback get some freebies to establish an offensive rhythm.
Clearly, Saleh has his finger on the pulse of the team’s performance, as we have seen subtle and not-so-subtle changes in these areas. However, beyond that, the coach has his locker room behind him through thick and thin. Starting from the offseason, when C.J. Uzomah stated that he came to the Jets to play in the culture that Robert Saleh was building, it was clear that this was not the same team as the one run by Todd Bowles or Adam Gase.
Saleh can handle ruffled feathers internally while keeping a calm demeanor in the media. He is a players’ coach, but their respect comes from both his football acumen and his defense of his guys. They trust his process.
Furthermore, Saleh is not afraid to change his football decisions. Besides the more obvious benching of Zach Wilson, Bryce Hall has been inactive for most of the season after he was surpassed in performance by Brandin Echols. The trade of Jacob Martin was a recognition by both Saleh and Joe Douglas that Bryce Huff had far outplayed Martin. Against the Bears, Saleh scratched James Robinson in favor of undrafted free agent Bam Knight because he preferred Knight’s vertical running style, notwithstanding the draft pick that was relinquished for Robinson.
I do not necessarily agree with every decision made by Saleh. I wondered why the Jets elevated Chris Streveler from the practice squad before the first Patriots matchup and then deactivated him for the game. I would have benched Zach Wilson in both Patriots games. I would still prefer not to see a defensive line rotation that includes four backups on the field at the same time. I’ve questioned Mike LaFleur’s play-calling at times and wondered why Saleh doesn’t change it.
However, I am certain of one thing: the Jets have the right coach at the helm. If anyone can lead the team to success, he can. If anyone can return the Jets to respectability, it’s the combination of Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas. I was more certain of Douglas before the season, but Saleh has earned his stripes with the way he has handled each blow and then some.
Regardless of how this season ends (and anyone around the Jets always suspects that heartbreak is in store), Saleh is exactly who everyone told us he is. Players who played for and against him alike, coaches who coached with him, and media members who know him gushed about him to a man. They said he’s a leader. They all expressed their respect.
Robert Saleh is the perfect CEO for the New York Jets.
I had just pulled this article up when my phone rang. On the other end was my 84 yr old dad. I’m in Oregon, he’s in CT. “What’s up?” I say, he says, “I wanted to talk some football”.
The man who bought our season tix at Shea so long ago has been disillusioned w/ the Green & White for years now, zero interest. Then this.
I have certainly criticized all the ppl mentioned in this article at one point or another, but I never doubted Joe D and Saleh could be the long-term consistency of vision that every organization needs. High hopes indeed.
Wow. That’s quite an endorsement. I certainly did doubt both guys, but they’ve shown me a lot.
Robert Saleh is reminding me more and more of Bill Parcells. With the Giants he built a team which, with very few exceptions, did not get pushed around and asserted their will on other teams. That is what we are seeing with the Jets, a team which pushes people around and doesn’t get pushed around themselves.
Also like Bill Parcells, Robert Saleh showed great leadership when faced with adversity. “Next man up” is a great philosophy, but the next man must be well coached and ready to step in. Considering the many offensive line injuries the Jets experienced this season, it is amazing that they have fielded a group that can run block, pass block and are even in a position to secure a playoff spot. That speaks volumes about his leadership.
It is now clear that Ulrich knows how to run a defense. And last week showed me that LaFleur knows how to run an offense and can call plays which put the offense in a position to make things happen. I saw a commentator on NFL Network say Mike White got the ball to his playmakers so they could use their talents to make plays. That comment said it all and I have to think LaFleur was trying to drill that into Zach Wilson since he arrived. LaFleur found a more receptive audience with Mike White.
Robert Saleh does not have to be Bill Parcells. But some of Parcells’ abilities would come in handy for any head coach and I am seeing many of those abilities come to the surface this season.
I mean, Saleh is a players’ coach, and Parcells, well, was not, to put it mildly. We’ve criticized Saleh in the past for some of the accountability issues we thought we saw on the team. Parcells would’ve benched some of his guys for the kinds of penalties they’ve taken this year. I think Saleh has a very different style that better suits today’s players.
LaFleur has been calling similar plays all year; Wilson just didn’t execute them. There were some questionable calls in the first half, in my opinion, but overall, LaFleur did bring over the ability to scheme players open from San Francisco. I would agree that White seems to be far more receptive to the Jets’ offensive philosophy, but I think it’s also that he’s more capable of playing with the consistent timing that the offense requires.
I like Saleh too. He has not only his players respect and trust but he is well liked around the league. As they say, “If you can make it in NY then you can make it anywhere”. Its not been an easy road for the Jets to build there culture and as long as it has took or will take to achieve. It can all come crashing down in a fraction of that time. I think he realizes that and adapts well to situations that arise. Douglas, Saleh, Ulbrich and Lafleur have shown that they all can be flexable and adapt to make it work. That kind of characteristic has to continue into the future in order to maintain or regain stability within the organization. It’s been a fun year to not only watch The Jets play on Sundays but to discuss The Jets all week long.
I’m impressed with Saleh precisely because of all the adversity he has faced this season. It’s been an incredible roller coaster for a 7-4 team, but as you said, he’s making it work even with the merciless NY media. Some of those questions he faces are brutal, but he’s unfazed.
The adaptability of all the Jets’ coaches has been fun to watch after we criticized them for the reverse earlier in the season. I think Saleh gets a lot of the credit for changing tacks in response to what he sees on the field.
The Jets are fun to watch for the first time since 2015.
We can’t know what happens privately (although people that read, or worse, comment on, blogs like this often think they can) so all we can see is the effort. I’m not remembering a Jets team that played this hard before. We see the two (of three) high profile guys, Mims and Moore, coming back and giving it their all, and we’ll see how Zach chooses to adapt, but even aside from those dramatic instances, everyone on this team seems very happy to make whatever contribution they can, no matter how dirty. It’s really pretty amazing, and it comes from the top.
That said, there are three types of head coaches: those that never get it right, those that get it right but the magic doesn’t last, and those that really have it. Rex and Herm fell into that second group, I think. Here’s hoping Saleh belongs in the third.
It’s a good point about the effort. Even guys who have shown laziness at times turn it around. The head coach knows how to motivate his players.
I do give Douglas a lot of credit for bringing in high-effort guys: CJ Uzomah, Jermaine Johnson, and Garrett Wilson are some of the biggest play-in, play-out grinders you’ll see.
I definitely agree about the three categories of coaches, and there’s no way to truly know which 9ne a coach will fit into. If anyone will have success with the Jets, though, it’ll be Saleh. It could fall apart on him or anyone, but I like his chances in the long term. Obviously, the QB situation and persistent injury problems will make it tough.
Yes on JD, but the list is so much longer than that. Reed leaps to mind, Mitchell and Clemons seemed to bring more than talent in the fourth round, AVT is all about the team, and a guy like Will Parks seems like he would do anything for Saleh. They don’t bother asking, “how high?,” they just immediately jump as high as they possibly can.
But the one I want to mention most is Corey Davis, who clearly got a bad rap while he was trying to play through injuries. The ferocity he brings to the run game is super refreshing for a well-paid wide receiver.
JD deserves a ton of credit for finding talented football players who are also high quality people, and Saleh deserves a ton of credit for building the mutual respect we see on the field every week.
Reed, AVT, and Mitchell, definitely. I’m going to bet that AVT will be a captain next year. Clemons was a surprising draft pick considering his troubles of the past, but he seems to fit in with the max-effort philosophy.
That’s a great point about Davis. You think of the drops as an effort thing, but considering his effort in the run game, there’s no way that’s the case.