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.