Robert Saleh, NY Jets, Fired, Coach, Staff
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Getty Images

It happened with the 2008 Jets and shouldn’t be underestimated

After 11 games of the 2008 season, the New York Jets were flying high.

A talented roster led by the seemingly ageless Brett Favre was 8-3, coming off an overtime victory against the Tom Brady-less Patriots. The AFC East seemed ripe for the taking with New England’s leader out of the picture, although Bill Belichick had kept them right there in the thick of the division race.

Five weeks later, Eric Mangini, dubbed “Mangenius” by the New York media just two years earlier for a spirited wild-card appearance was unceremoniously fired.

The parallels to the 2022 team are obvious. A 6-3 start, all the goodwill in the world, and discussions of Robert Saleh for Coach of the Year. Then, following the bye week, such a stunning, putrid collapse that it makes you scratch your head.

Was the Jets’ 6-3 start a mirage? Was it just injuries that caused their demise? Is it the fact that they just don’t have the quarterback that has caused their downfall?

The answer is all and none of the above.

We can and will go through a postmortem on the Jets’ 2022 season. There are injuries, missed opportunities, quarterback failures, special teams blunders, and so much more. But it starts—it has to start—with the man leading the team.

There was much skepticism about Robert Saleh after his performance in Year 1, but he seemed to have turned a corner in Year 2. He preached patience and claimed that 2021 was a learning year, a season to install his system. That appeared to be paying dividends through nine weeks of 2022, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. We swallowed our skepticism in the face of the evidence.

However, with a nearly-full sample size of 16 games, all our questions are right back. The misgivings we at Jet X expressed about the system vs. the talent needed to run it, the scheme stubbornness, the lack of accountability, the complete predictability, and so much more have gradually risen and reached full throttle with a Week 17 embarrassment at Lumen Field.

Yes, the Jets are a young team—but, with the exception of the quarterback position, it has been their veterans at the forefront of the collapse.

Yes, the goal was set at competitive games in December—but that was before the Jets started 6-3. Expectations necessarily change. Preseason goals only mean so much at the end of the season, unless they are congruent in reality.

Yes, Robert Saleh has changed the culture in the Jets’ locker room—but it seems to have come with a cost. From the moment Quincy Williams hit Jalen Hurts out of bounds in the first preseason game, there has been much reason to question whether Coach Saleh can instill discipline in his players. We saw glimpses of it earlier in the season but ignored it due to the good vibes surrounding the team.

Now, it is evident that so many veteran players have not been held accountable, and have been left to make the same mental errors, to continue the same inexcusable play that is below their career norms.

The heart that Saleh brings to the team cannot be questioned, but Zach Wilson’s press conference against New England may have been emblematic of a bigger, more insidious problem throughout the team. It’s easy to say that it was a locker room revolt against Wilson, but perhaps it was a locker room revolt by players who don’t want the spotlight turned on themselves.

For many of the players, when you look beyond the traditional stats, the iniquities are glaring. In fact, the only four Jets players who likely do not have that level of soul-searching to do are Alijah Vera-Tucker, Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed, and Quinnen Williams, none of whom are captains of the team.

Culture can only career a team so far without accountability. A leader in any area of life—a parent, a teacher, a manager, or a coach—knows that they are not there to be buddies with those in their care. There must be a balance of love and reverence, of motivation and accountability. Saleh has the positive side of the equation, but what of the negative? It is usually not enough to offer rewards; the consequences must be there, as well.

Furthermore, besides holding his players accountable, we have not seen enough of Saleh holding himself and his coaches accountable. Yes, he will give lip service to a particular area of coaching that needs to improve.

However, since it has not improved, the question becomes if Saleh has enough self-awareness and metacognitive capabilities to tease out where he and his coaching staff went wrong.

I am not giving Joe Douglas a free pass in this equation, either. It is easy to look at some successful trades and give excess credit to a general manager. However, when you look at the total body of Douglas’s work, he has had far more whiffs than hits in free agency, has an entire draft’s worth of busts, and, despite considerable improvement in the last two years in that area, clearly missed on the biggest pick of them all, the quarterback at No. 2 in 2021.

However, what we saw from this team down the stretch was a level of quit that you would not expect with a coach whose mantra is “all gas, no brakes.” In Saleh’s introductory press conference, he stated that this was a rallying cry not [only] for the playing field, but for training, practice, and meetings. With the product that the Jets have put on the field in the last eight weeks, which has hit an unwatchable level over the last two, there is clearly a breakdown of that slogan days prior to Sunday.

Am I advocating that the Jets move on from Saleh? I am not. Ultimately, the Jets’ preseason over-under was 5.5 games, and with the level of quarterback play they have received, I’m not sure that Brian Daboll could have gotten this team to the playoffs.

But am I saying that there are absolutely no excuses in 2023? Yes. If 2023 turns into 2008 or worse, no matter what happens to this team, both Douglas and Saleh should lose their jobs. Douglas is entering his fourth offseason and fifth season as Jets’ GM, and the loss in Seattle assured that all the previous ones will have been losing seasons. Rarely does a general manager get that long to pull together a winning outfit in the NFL. Rarer still does a GM get the chance to redeem himself after the failure of a high QB selection.

Furthermore, the Jets must closely evaluate their coaches and coordinators. Mike LaFleur has done some good things this season, but in my opinion, the bad down the stretch has outweighed the previous good. LaFleur proved himself incapable of adapting when teams picked up on his tendencies. Yes, that is obviously dictated in part by horrendous QB play, but it was somewhat visible even in Mike White’s best games this season.

LaFleur’s utilization of the Jets’ best skill players was shaky at best. He alternated running backs far too often to allow any of them to develop a rhythm. He often had the wrong wide receivers on the field or failed to design reads for his playmakers, especially Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore. He rarely got Tyler Conklin in one-on-one matchups with linebackers, which is his ideal usage, and asked both of his tight ends to block in ways that left them out-leveraged.

Even if the Jets choose to stick with LaFleur, though, they need to consider their other coaches. The fall-off of the offensive line down the stretch despite four of the Day 1 starters playing calls into question some of Jeremy Benton’s work, particularly when you see the number of missed assignments. They were not getting outplayed physically as much as mentally, and that is often a coaching issue.

On the defensive side of the ball, we have all penned our apology notes to Jeff Ulbrich. However, the Jets defense that took the field for the last five weeks of the season looked more like that which we expected from Ulbrich prior to the year. A feather-soft middle of the field, wide-open backs and tight ends, missed tackles, shaky run defense, and poor backend defense against big plays were all predictable. They held out for much of the season but crumbled near the end, and that was a schematic issue as much as a personnel one.

The Jets’ pass rush, which had covered for lapses on the backend, floundered down the stretch, allowing teams to exploit the holes they had previously identified. Trevor Lawrence and Geno Smith put the final nails in the coffin in a way that showed the Jets were not just outplayed but outcoached.

Ulbrich has earned the right to return for another year, but he must be quicker to adjust. The book is out on the Jets’ coverage rules, and teams know exactly what’s coming and how to beat it. He must make some changes, or else he is, by Einstein’s definition, practicing insanity—doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.

You wonder about those coaching the linebackers and safeties, though. The lack of discipline has been so pervasive that it’s hard to believe it’s just a talent issue. Rather, it’s a mindset that leads to poor tackling, to poor angles, to getting too far upfield and being unable to recover. And this is the mindset that goes back to Saleh.

On special teams, has the end finally come for Brant Boyer? Braden Mann’s season has been an epic failure, but it goes beyond Mann. The Jets’ punt coverage allowed two of the three touchdowns given up across the league this season. Micheal Clemons, a 270-pound defensive end, is still playing on punt coverage. Justin Hardee, despite a Pro Bowl season, has been called for two crushing personal fouls.

On punt returns, Braxton Berrios has forgotten how to catch a punt, not by muffing them but simply by allowing them to bounce—and yet he’s still on the field. Meanwhile, there is no blocking to speak of on punts or kick returns, leading to routine fair catches or stuffs before the 25.

This must be a full coaching staff look in the mirror. If no one is fired, then they need to show the self-honesty that is crucial for all real leaders. Find the problem and fix it. If it’s a specific player, that player must go. If it’s a mindset, it must change. If it’s a lack of accountability, benching must be a possibility. No more can a Jets player commit an unforgivable unnecessary roughness penalty and then shrug it off as if it never occurred.

Crushing disappointment is the name of the game for all who have been involved in the New York Jets’ organization for over 50 years. The line becomes tiresome. Preaching patience is one thing, but when a season this promising bites the dust, a thorough postmortem must begin with the heart and brain—or in this case, the brain trust.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.
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mlesko73
mlesko73
5 months ago

I picked one hell of a game to be my son’s first NFL game. It was unbearable to be there.
And so begins his conditioning of being a Jets fan; he had been so optimistic. I knew better but didn’t want to rain on his parade.

Anyway, I honestly have no clue how to right this ship. I like Saleh but the bonehead in-game moves are mystifying. That punt made me want to walk out of the game. In terms of holding players accountable, I wrote here that he should’ve benched Quincy for at least a play or two in the pre-season game against Philly. Missed opportunity.

Some of the accountability issues overlap w/ having players w/ a high football IQ, which apparently we lack. You really shouldn’t have to be disciplining players for late hits etc

One clear condemnation of Saleh is that Conklin was quoted as saying “It didn’t have a playoff feel on our sideline”. To come out flat in what is essentially a do-or-die game falls squarely on the HC.

On the coordinators. I do believe that LaFleur must go. I like him as a person, but he doesn’t look to be able to gameplan and adjust to in-game situations (i say understanding the personnel limitations). Isn’t the firing/hiring of coordinators a GM responsibility after the initial HC decisions?

On the defensive side, I’m kind of “meh”. I personally don’t like the “wide 9” scheme b/c I think it puts too much pressure on the interior run-stop, but Philly shows it can work. Being at the game in Seattle I thought that if I were the Seattle OC I would run curls and hooks to the TE’s until we stopped it. They could have run it every play. That’s a personnel issue.

As I said, there are no easy answers. But my top three priorities would be: create a dominant O Line, create a dominant O Line,and then create a dominant O Line.

Jim G
Jim G
5 months ago

I hate to even suggest this, but the defense’s fall-off in the past few games makes me wonder whether conditioning is part of the problem. That is, that poor offensive performances required the defense to play more and more additional minutes each game, which cumulatively led to fatigue by week 13.

I am also less critical of Mike LeFleur than many people are. Given what we now know, can you imagine what Mike LeFleur must have thought after 3-4 months on the job when he was told “this (Zach Wilson) is your starting QB?” Play calling is necessarily limited by a QB who can’t complete simple passes, can’t execute the “commodity things” which any NFL QB must execute.

I agree some soul searching is necessary. Any time you (just) end the season with 5 or 6 losses, some hard, critical thinking is necessary. And that stat of being 2-9 against starting QBs (even though the 2 came against Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers) is very troubling. Maybe the 2022 Jets were not as “ready to compete” as we thought they would be?

Anthony Dino Catello
Anthony Dino Catello
5 months ago

Sean Payton will not come to the Jets. Payton made it clear he wants a QB. Saleh did a remarkable job, covering for a lack luster OC in Mike lefluer. As one person commented send Mike out now to a division II school. Also they commented “NO STRATEGY, NO CREATIVITY, NO LEADERSHIP. THE PLAYERS DO NOT WANT TO PLAY FOR LEFLUER.” Lets be real Shanahan took Lefluer as a favor for Matt Lefluer. Coach Saleh did the same thing. Coach Saleh needs to move on get rid of Boyer and Lefluer. ASAP

DFargas
DFargas
5 months ago

With Payton’s help, the Jets could maybe land Carr or Garroppolo in the off season. Anyway, they have to make an effort. The teams with great QBs are not in the market for a new coach, so Payton’s range of choice is limited.

Anthony Dino Catello
Anthony Dino Catello
5 months ago
Reply to  DFargas

I don’t think Payton will jeopardize his great coaching career and take on a team that does not have a Quarterback. Besides I still have faith in Saleh & Douglas, to bring in Linemen and a QB with additional Linebackers, another Edge Rusher thru the draft.

DFargas
DFargas
5 months ago

I think Douglas should take a shot at hiring Sean Payton, not because he must fire Saleh but just because the availability of a very experienced, super-bowl winning coach who also coached a hall of fame QB is a rare opportunity. Payton’s advice during the off-season on how to handle the QB situation could also be extremely valuable. If Payton says yes, then Saleh and his staff goes. If he says no, then I would say Saleh and LaFleur get another year to see if they can build on whatever success/progress they had this year. I think they are both capable of learning from their mistakes this year.

DFargas
DFargas
5 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Yes, I would be willing to part with a first round pick for a guy like Payton for several reasons. 1. A resourceful GM can often do more with less. Look at how the Seahawks built a good young roster after giving away multiple top picks in the Jamal Adams trade. Plus, don’t forget all the good young Jets that are injured: Hall, Becton (maybe), Vera-Tucker, Mitchell. How many did you need to pile on top of these guys? 2. There comes a point of diminishing returns in accumulating talented players if you don’t have the coach and the system in place to use them. Look at Moore, Uzomah, James Robinson: totally wasted on this team because of all the offensive disarray. You could say it was all Wilson’s fault, but Wilson’s ineptitude was connected to poor coaching. 3. The Jets have to get focused on developing a good QB and Payton is worth the price to do that. It’s actually a little annoying to hear the Jets’ organization talk about all the good players they have when they don’t have the single most important player in place to make them all successful and mean something.

biggestgarrettwilsonfan
biggestgarrettwilsonfan
5 months ago

reading this was cathartic

Noam
Noam
5 months ago

One stat sticks out to me. 5-0 vs. Backup QBs and 2-9 vs starting QBs. With one more game coming against a backup. It makes me think we were overrating this team and maybe they were playing over their heads all season staying competitive until these last two games.

Noam
Noam
5 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

It will be interesting to see what the Jets do this offseason. I think of the Jets as the 2021 version of the Lions. A good team that lost a lot of close games but one unlike the Lions was very fortunate playing teams with backup QBs.

I expect JD to be very aggressive fixing the OL, targeting a safety and going after a veteran QB. I expect Douglas to go all in and go after Brady, Garrapalo, Carr any anyone they feel can win now. My guess is Brady is there big target. He would fix a lot of flaws and with our defense would make us instant contenders.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
5 months ago
Reply to  Noam

Please. Douglas is not going all in to sign a 46 year old QB.

Anthony Dino Catello
Anthony Dino Catello
5 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Defensively the Jets rank 3rd in the NFL. When you do not have the support of the Offensive unit the Defense got worn down. Offensively the Jets under a divison II Offensive Coordinator Mike Lefluer who can be PePe Le Pew his offensive unit ranked in the lower half in 3 downs & out. The defense was worn out. In addition we need Linebackers and another Edge Rusher. Getting back to your discussion Mike Lefluer and Boyer need to be terminated at the end of this season. It was obvious the players did not want to play for PePe Le Pew Lefluer.

Anthony Dino Catello
Anthony Dino Catello
5 months ago
Reply to  Noam

The Defense carried the Jets to a 7 game win record.

MasterWu77
MasterWu77
5 months ago

Thanks for writing a really good start to the offseason analysis that will need to be conducted by Douglas and Saleh.

I think your point on accountability by Saleh on veteran players who are underperforming and potentially threatening to collapse the culture Saleh preaches was particularly revealing and something not being talked about enough. The Seahawks revealed a team that had no urgency or passion in a must-win playoff game.

I also think the Jets need to take a hard look at why so many free agent players are failing to live up to their contract signings (Berrios, Tomlinson, Joyner, Whitehead, etc.) It’s not like these weren’t lauded signings but these veteran players have largely been disappointments for an entire year. Why? What causes seemingly solid signings to turn into failures?

I really hope Saleh takes some significant time on his own to self-reflect on what went wrong after that Bears game. If he’s going to prove that he can be the Jets head coach for the long-term (and if he can, he’d go down in Jet’s history), he must figure these issues out and fast. I hope he’ll look at the coaching staff and particularly with his best friend MLF to make adjustments there. Don’t be content with his playcalling and development of the QB position.

jimmyjets
jimmyjets
5 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Rivka. I love your articles and think you do a tremendous job with your coverage and insight on the team but I dont think I agree with your take about Saleh and accountability. I think he showed that he holds players accountable on multiple occasions this year. The first benching of Z Wilson was not an entirely popular move at the time he did it. He benched James Robinson when he was not performing also. I think for the players you mentioned there was really no other option. It was impossible not to play Tomlinson with all the injuries or Mosley with no depth. We do not know what conversations were had at practice or behind closed doors with these players. If Mike White was able to hit HALF of his open receivers yesterday, we are probably having a whole different conversation about the coach. Not sure if Saleh is the answer and i get he has many faults. By no means a Saleh defender but this is the first year in a LONG while that this team actually wanted to play for a coach. To pull out 7 wins with the qb play we had this year is definitely no small feat

Anthony Dino Catello
Anthony Dino Catello
5 months ago
Reply to  jimmyjets

I agree. Coach Saleh did a great job bringing us 7 wins without an Offensive Coordinator or a QB. The Jets rank 3rd in the NFL. Offensively Coach Saleh needs to replace Mike Lefluer, with an experienced Coordinator. Mike Lefluer did not implement the Shanahan Offense.

jimmyjets
jimmyjets
5 months ago

I honestly dont think he could with Wilson. I really think instead of Implementing ANY offense he was trying more to call plays zach could actually run and complete. I agree I think Lafluer has to go but i wouldve liked to see what his offense looked like if he actually had confidence in a qb

jimmyjets
jimmyjets
5 months ago
Reply to  jimmyjets

Please tell me that you really don’t believe Jamien Sherwood shouldve started over Mosley? What Mosley brings to that defense with lining everyone up correctly and his ability to decipher the plays (ask bill belichick) is irreplaceable with what they have on the roster now. The entire defense looks to him as their leader and i whole heartedly disagree that benching him wouldve been a smart coaching move. I think it wouldve led to a revolt on the defense. The only unit that kept us playing important games in December for the first time in years

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
5 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Sounds like closing the barn door after the horses have left.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
5 months ago
Reply to  jimmyjets

THIS!!!!! This is the best comment I’ve read on this column. You can talk about accountability all you want, but what is Saleh supposed to do? Start Dan Feeney over Tomlinson? Start Sherwood and Nasrildeen over CJ and Quincy? He benched Zach twice. He benched Mims at the start of the season and Moore in the middle when he complained.

I agree that there were times when our rush D looked like Swiss cheese, and it seemed like there were lots of missed tackles. But at the end of the day our D is 3rd in yards given up, 4th in points given up. Despite what seemed like tones of missed tackles, according to Pro-Football Reference we were 4th in missed tackle rate. Despite a falloff from Carl Lawson, were were 7th in sacks and 9th in pressure%. What stood out to me was that we werhow much of that was bad QB playe worst in the league in opponents starting field position. That’s on the Offense and the ST.

Despite commenters saying “just getting new QB won’t matter that much” the reality os that if we had had Derek Carr this season we’d have finished with 11 wins and would be shopping for playoff tickets right now. It’s obvious that it was not the D that let this team down, and as D is Saleh’s forte he seems to have been effective at it. On offense, it’s easy to blame Lafleur, but how much of that was bad QB play?

Klue
Klue
5 months ago

I absolutely agree. Great article.