Robert Saleh made his first appearance as the New York Jets’ head coach on Thursday. ESM has the big takeaways.
A new era officially dawned for the New York Jets on Thursday, as Robert Saleh made his first public appearance as the head coach of the New York Jets. Saleh appeared alongside Jets CEO and chairman Christopher Johnson and general manager Joe Douglas to make his first statements as New York’s green football boss.
“When we met with Robert (Saleh), I was struck by his presence,” Johnson said, per video provided by the Jets. “He displayed an ability to engage with us in a virtual interview. He also clearly communicated a vision of this team that aligns with ours. When we met in person, it validated everything we believed following our initial meeting. Robert has shown through his journey here that he is a leader, one that will engage the entire team and will partner with Joe (Douglas) to continue building the culture of a winning organization.”
What can we gather and glean from Saleh’s first statements at the helm? ESM has the big takeaways from his first showing under the New York spotlight…
“For our organization, get used to the mantra, “All gas, no brake.” When we talk about, “All gas, no break,” we’re not talking about effort on the field, we’re talking about the process at which we do things. We’re talking about the way we prepare, the way we wake up every single morning, the way we rehab, the way we communicate, the way we speak to one another.
What It Could Mean: Had it not been for Dan Campbell’s propensity for devouring kneecaps in Detroit, Saleh’s “All gas no brake” mantra could’ve been the quote of the day. These words from Saleh show he has little interest in a lengthy rebuild. It’s a tough love mindset that exudes a sense of intensity without taking to the extreme, almost absurd, lengths Campbell went to in his opening presser with the Lions. Saleh appears to be searching for intense competitors high in character and intensity, but without the baggage of say, a Gregg Williams. That process has begun with surrounding himself with familiar faces from his days in San Francisco, including Mike LaFleur and Miles Austin, each of whom will help oversee the offense.
To our fans, we embrace your passion, we embrace your expectations. We cannot wait to go on this journey with you. Please understand, we understand that we have a lot of work to do. But make no mistake that our goal is to win championships. And so again, I cannot wait to get through this journey with all of y’all. It’s going to be an exciting time, and I promise that you’re going to love what y’all see.
What It Could Mean: In other words…be patient. We’re only at the start of the NFL offseason…heck, it technically hasn’t begun yet with three games to go on the playoff docket…but it’s difficult to imagine the Jets will be able to make enough changes to re-enter the AFC playoff picture in 2021. Saleh’s gentle welcome back to the fans, however, is a decent sign of goodwill and will likely attract a few who might’ve been on the fence about his hire.
“When you look at the plan and what we have in place with regards to scheme, offense, defense, special teams and the mindset at which we’re going to do it, there’s an investment that’s going to be made to one another – coaches to players, players to coaches, organization to everybody – and there’s an investment that’s going to be reciprocated. But understanding that the all gas, no brake mentality that we’re going to have with how we wake up in the morning, how we rehab, how we prepare for meetings, how we take the practice field, how we’re deliberate in everything we do will lead to the results that you’ll see on Sunday. It will take time, but everything we do is going to be designed to win championships in the future.”
What It Could Mean: The Adam Gase era was likely the furthest thing from Saleh’s mind on Thursday, but it doesn’t take much stretching to see this as a bit of a jab at the environment his predecessor created in New York. Enough has been written about the phenomenon of Gase’s former proteges going on to find success away from his watch, but his negative effects were highlighted with former Jets receiver Robby Anderson admitted he was “was losing (his) love for football” in New York without mentioning Gase’s name. Gase’s strained relationships with Jamal Adams and Le’Veon Bell were also frequent talking points and led to each star’s respective departure. Saleh seems to have relative open-door endeavors in mind, seeking to make sure each player is used to the best of his abilities with a matter of respect involved. The theme of reciprocation was a strong buzzword in Saleh’s debut, as he brought it up in three separate discourses.
“What I can tell you with regards to Sam (Darnold) is that he’s got an unbelievable arm talent. There’s a reason why he was the number three pick in the draft. He’s fearless in the pocket, he’s got a natural throwing motion, he’s mobile, he’s extremely intelligent and he’s tough as nails. His reputation in the locker room is unquestioned, so just that in general, there’s a reason why he was the third pick in the draft and you can see all those qualities on tape and around the building and the way people speak about him.”
What It Could Mean: It was perhaps too much to ask for Saleh to have a concrete answer about Sam Darnold’s future on Thursday, as he said things were “premature” when it came to such an effort. But there seemed to be a hint of moving on to his comments, especially in his references to game-planning for Darnold and hyping his status as the third overall pick of the 2018 draft. It’s early in the process, but the non-commitment, necessary as it may be in a debut press conference, is only going to fuel speculation.
“With regards to a collaboration mindset, with regards to our communication with Joe and his staff – whether or not, who has control, all those different titles, what’s been made clear is that Joe and his staff want to be collaborative and they want to communicate at all levels. So, every conversation that’s had obviously with the staff and with Joe’s staff, there’s going to be a lot of discussions, there’s going to be a lot of different things are talked about. So, obviously Joe will always have final say, but I really see it in the way he’s communicating. I think when you communicate at the level that we have here, who has final say is irrelevant.”
What It Could Mean: In another, likely unintentional, jab at Gase, Saleh has dedicated himself to a working relationship with both Douglas and Johnson. This would contrast the brief, icy relationship Gase had with Mike Maccagnan, as their power struggle led to the latter’s post-draft firing in 2019. It’s safe to say that Saleh is looking for smoother relations this time around. He has also made it clear that while it appears that Douglas will have the final say in roster decisions, a system has been presented to him where having the final say would prove merely symbolic.
“I do believe that there’s a lot of talent on this roster. How those different pieces fit to the schemes that we’re about to deploy is going to be decided here in the coming weeks, but like I said, there’s a collaborative effort being made, obviously starting with Christopher Johnson and how he wants things to be run.”
What It Could Mean: While there’s no doubt that change is coming to the New York Jets, the fact that Saleh pointed out that he likes some of the names on the current ledger is intriguing. After all, one of the most common complaints of the Gase era was that he was unable to help holdovers from Bowles’ tenure reach the next level of their developments. The Jets’ defense is full of strong potential, including safety Marcus Maye, who took on a strong leadership role after Adams was shipped to Seattle. Those seeking to take that next step could be inspired to stay since Saleh appears to allow for some turnover from the team’s prior incarnation.
“I’m not going to be handling play calling duties on defense, got the utmost respect and confidence in Jeff Ulbrich to be able to do that…This is an organization that has to work locked in arms and work together and to ensure that the messaging and the way we want things done all the way across the board is there and maintaining that connection throughout, whether it’s offense, defense, special teams, business to football, somehow, some way, everyone’s got to find their connection to the player and with the mindset that we’re going to get these guys better every single day. And to be able to have that focus and ensure that the entire organization is moving in the direction that we want, I won’t be calling plays.”
What It Could Mean: The Jets announced the hiring of former San Francisco linebacker Jeff Ulbrich as defensive coordinator shortly before Saleh took to the podium. He got one of the brightest burning questions out of the way fast, announcing that Ulbrich will be calling plays on defense. It’s a bit of an early risk…the Atlanta Falcons let up over 398 yards a game in Ulbrich’s first and only seasons as a coordinator…but it shows that Saleh is willing to be hands-on in every facet of the game. That’s especially promising considering the prior season showed that nearly every major position is in desperate need of guidance.
“I’m going to be like me. And that was a challenge that Pete (Carroll) gave us when we were young assistance, was it’s easy to pick from different people and try to emulate what different people are, but in moments of adversity, your true character will always reveal itself. And so, the challenge was to identify with yourself and be who you are first because then when adversity hits, your authenticity will shine. And so, to tell you who you’re going to get, you’re going to get me. And this entire organization and what we’re going to try to get done is to be designed to win championships.”
What It Could Mean: Jets history has maintained an antiquated sense of “finding the next ____________”. They’ve been searching for the next Joe Namath ever since the legendary thrower fulfilled his promise at the Orange Bowl in Super Bowl III. Any slot receiver from a small school blessed with a catch has to endure Wayne Chrebet comparisons. Adams got out of New Jersey just before the Darrelle Revis analogies popped up. Saleh, however, is seeking to start completely fresh. He certainly thanked those that helped him get to where he is now…Carroll, Kyle Shanahan, Kris Richard, among others…but he’s not interested in being a new, say, Bill Parcells or Weeb Eubank. He wants to be the first Robert Saleh, a unique coach that leaves his own mark on New York. Saleh even mentioned in an earlier response that the perception of the Jets was “unfair, clearly”. Time will tell if Saleh can make that mark.
“Players really want two things from a coach, I’ve always felt this way, one, they want to know that you care about their wellbeing, everyone says it’s a business, I get it, but it’s not, this is a personal investment to people. And the most important people are the ones who strap up on game day and step between the lines. And obviously, can you help them make plays on Sundays so they can get paid as much as possible and that is the goal of every single coach and everybody who has some type of impact on the players or has a connection to the players and that is going to be the goal of this entire organization, is to make sure we do everything we can to connect to their wellbeing and to help them make plays on Sunday so they get paid as much as possible. When you look at the connection part with these players, there’s an investment that has to be made, you got to sell everything you can, you got to give them everything you can and when you do, like I said, the reciprocation happens and when it does, it becomes personal, and that’s all you can ask for, to get this to a personal level where everybody’s has everybody’s back and everybody feels accountable to one another.”
What It Could Mean: The year 2020 was a year of reflection and reckoning, and the sports world was no exception to the phenomenon. Participants made it clear that they were human, not emotionless athletic machines, a realization many should’ve probably realized long ago. It’s great to see that Saleh understand such a concept. This is a coach that appears to truly care for his players in the early going, and that’s only going to make the Jets a better team. New York is a team that desperately needs unity after the Gase era left so many hurt feelings. When Bowles was let go after 2018, there was a true sense that players were not only losing a teacher but a friend as well. When Gase was hired, the strongest cheerleaders were perhaps the hot take artists like Colin Cowherd. But with Saleh, the tones of player appreciation have been on display ever since he was first connected to the Jets. Richard Sherman, one of his pupils in San Francisco, immediately sang his praises, as did Quinnen Williams. Getting these strong vibes of camaraderie back into the organization would go a long way, and it appears Saleh has started that process
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags