By Lenn Robbins
Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute.
What just happened here in the land of green and white dysfunction?
Did the Jets just make what possibly could be the best coaching hire of 2021, their best coaching hire since Rex Ryan? They did, didn’t they.
They acted boldly and decisively, hiring former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to replace Adam Gase. In other words, they hired a passionate communicator to replace a bug-eyed, loner.
That’s a win right there but the Jets need more than a win this time. They need an Atlas of a man who can put a franchise and a fan base on his shoulders and left them up. They got the Vin Diese,l of the Fast and the Furious, to replace Jeff Goldblum, of The Fly.
But seriously, each of the NFL teams looking for a coach – save the Jacksonville Jaguars – had Saleh, 41, at the top of their list. A group of Michigan state legislatures went so far as to pen a letter to Detroit Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp to hire Saleh, a Michigan native. It read, in part:
“A head coach like Robert can bring tremendous energy and heart to the franchise and would help us reach peaks that have seemed unobtainable for so long.”
That sounds an awful lot like what Jets fans might have written to team owner Woody Johnson. If you’ve seen Saleh on the sidelines you know he’s got energy and heart.
He also had one of the NFL’s best defenses over the last season three seasons. He lost Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford, Richard Sherman and others for long stretches, if not the season, and the 49ers still were fifth in yards allowed. They play with a physicality needed to compete in the NFL West, (Rams, Seahawks), the best division in the NFC if not all of football.
The players he’s coached rave about Saleh.
“He’s super-optimistic,” Richard Sherman told reporters. “He’s positive. Not a lot of yelling. Not a lot of negative criticism. There is criticism. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and he’ll get on you when you make a mistake, but he won’t say, ‘You suck.’ He will say, ‘I see what you saw, but we need to play this a little better.’ It’s honest criticism that anybody can accept.”
The head coaches he’s worked for revere him.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with people if they don’t hire him,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters recently. “I mean, he’s as good as you can get, and he knows more about football, all three phases, and he’s going to hire the best staff, knows about players, he knows what they’re talking about, who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and he also knows how to deal with people.”
The Jets need this. They need a man who can inspire his players to play tough, physical football. They need a man they can relate to. They need a man who’s comfortable with himself.
Saleh, a Lebanese-American, becomes the NFL’s first Muslin coach. His assimilation has not been easy at times, especially on 9-11 when his brother, David, was on his second day of training for a new job on the 61st floor of the South Tower. He escaped, but we know life wasn’t easy for Muslim-Americans in the days after the terrorist attacks.
This is the right place for Saleh at the right time and the Jets GM joe Douglas, who we’ve been a big fan of, recognized that. They also recognized that they needed to act boldly and decisively to hire a bold and passionate coach.
Enjoy this minute, Jets fans. Enjoy it.