Enduring the Stings
How the worst head coach might lead the Jets to one of the best
“ He who wants to eat honey should endure the stings”
— Lebanese Proverb
Thursday the Jets announced that they are hiring Robert Saleh as their head coach.
Saleh came from the back of the pack to become the team’s top choice and I think many were put on their heels at how quickly he emerged as the candidate the Jets wanted to bring in as the team’s 20th coach.
If we are to judge by the reaction of the fans, this is a resounding win. It is easy to understand why Saleh resonates after decades of disingenuous, abrasive, blustery, and withholding head coaches. From Saleh’s background and career change story, to his amped up personality on the sidelines, to the stellar results of his talented defensive units (despite numerous injuries) it is easy to understand why there’s excitement in New York for the first time in a long-time around this hire.
Personally? I love it. There’s no way to know yet whether or not Saleh will be the long-term success that New York has sought. But I think it is fair to say that no matter what actually happens during Saleh’s tenure, the process the Jets took to get here was arguably as encouraging as the hire itself.
Any enthusiasm I have about hiring Saleh is multiplied by the way in which the team approached the process.
Gase’s Greatest Gift
In my last column, I wrote about how the Jets ought to adhere to first principles qualities in their hiring of their new head coach (principles like communication, leadership, intellectual curiosity, love of teaching, etc.) rather than work in a reactionary anti-pattern off the last coach as the Jets have seemingly done since the Johnsons bought the team.
Is Robert Saleh in many ways The Anti-Gase? Yes. Does that mean the Jets went through the wrong process in getting Saleh? No.
For as bad as Gase was, one of the greatest gifts Adam Gase gave to the New York Jets organization was to be the human embodiment of all the things you don’t want out of a head coach. Gase’s terrible character, duplicity, capriciousness, adherence to a flawed scheme, and poor values only enhanced the team’s knowledge of the kind of person and leader they were craving. The absence of all those things crystallized the need.
Focus on the Fundamentals
In Saleh, it would seem they found a coach who will focus on making the team better from the inside out. Maybe more importantly, they seem to have the sort of coach who will be on the level with his players.
I thought Peter King shared some really valuable insights (2:40 mark) with ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio on what the Jets need in a head coach and why Robert Saleh will be a breath of fresh air for the Jets organization.
The idea King shares here from Parcells is that while the coach’s authority comes through his ability to command, lead, and communicate just as much as it comes from his ability to relate, be transparent, and elicit more from his players at an individual basis.
Where Gase was inscrutable and antagonistic, Saleh will bring a more fundamentally sound style of coaching to the organization through the teaching and accountability which most players appreciate.
Listen to his players just a few weeks ago talk about him - knowing he is likely heading out the door somewhere.
Why are players so effusive in their praise of Saleh? Don’t worry, he’s not the next blustery incarnation of Rex Ryan. Saleh is respectful, candid, and centered. He also has that quality that is hard to characterize but also hard not to want to trust.
If you’ve never seem him talk, check out the Niners’ library of Saleh’s press conferences and see what you think for yourself. Here’s a few:
Robert Saleh Week 17 (12/31/20) — [YouTube]
Robert Saleh Week 16 (12/23/20) — [YouTube]
Robert Saleh Week 15 (12/17/20) — [YouTube]
Robert Saleh Week 14 (12/10/20) — [YouTube]
What strikes me from watching a bunch of Saleh press conferences:
Saleh’s understanding that there are more important jobs for a head coach than simply calling the plays or focusing on one side of the ball
How well Saleh understands the importance of strong cohesion of units and the value that unlocks for the rest of the team (especially the coaches!)
Saleh’s concept of “speed.” When Saleh says it he doesn’t mean how fast a guy runs a 40 yard dash, he means conceptual speed. How quickly can Player A diagnose a play and know what his assignment is? If Player A initiates leaning into his assignment, can Player B see what Player A initiated chain his assignment to Player A’s?
Saleh understands the value that attributes that players bring to the table and wants to find ways to incorporate them into the overall system
Zero to Sixty
So how did Joe Douglas arrive at hiring a man he’d never previously met before the interview process just a few weeks ago? It is not as if Joe Douglas doesn’t have an extensive network. The Jets GM has a host of relationships ranging from college coaching circles thanks time as a scout. He also has deep ties to the coaches with links to Baltimore and Philadelphia.
So why didn’t Douglas even pursue Ravens DC Wink Martindale as was widely speculated? Probably because Douglas didn’t think he was the right candidate.
And why didn’t Douglas change course once former Eagles head coach Doug Pederson became available late in the process? Same answer. (Doug Pederson would have been a disaster in New York)
Sunday night, SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano published the most revealing report so far on the process the Jets took in hiring Robert Saleh.
“It would’ve been really easy for Joe to fall back on someone he already knew,” said one NFL source, familiar with the Jets’ process. “You see a lot of GMs and teams do that. But he went outside of his comfort zone.
While most of the article relies on a single unnamed source, it is still a must-read for anyone thirsty for the dynamics which led to the decision inside 1 Jets Drive.
So what was it about Saleh particularly that gave the Jets confidence to stake their future on a man they just met? Again, from Vacchiano.
The search was considered “wide open” from the start, a source said – no early favorites. But that changed on Friday, Jan. 8 when Saleh had his first virtual interview with the Jets.
“He wowed them,” said one source familiar with the interview. “His presence, his confidence, his plan … it was all there. He convinced them he believed he could turn everything around quickly. He was exactly what they wanted the image of their leader to be.”
With Joe Douglas signing a six-year contract back in 2019 and Saleh now coming aboard with five-year contract himself the two will be attached at the hip for the next half-decade.
Room to Run
While it is easy to get hung up on the Jets record, the end of the season proved there’s some pieces with which to work already under contract and lots of ways to quickly build a foundation between a host of draft picks in 2021 & 2022 as well as plenty of salary cap room. From Vacchiano.
… one thing was clear: Saleh was definitely interested in the Jets, too.
“He thought it was one of the best jobs on the board,” said an NFL source. “The Jets have some pieces there and a ton of draft picks and cap room to build a team quickly. He thought there was more there than some of the other teams. Definitely more than the Lions.”
The Lions would have been a comfortable and easy choice for Saleh. To return back to his Dearborn, MI roots might have been appealing. And while Saleh might have had a shot to go work for the Eagles or build up Jacksonville with Trevor Lawrence he picked the Jets.
Fired up yet?
Honestly, while I’m relieved the Jets chose a coach and didn’t crap the bed in the process, I’m just as excited about what comes from this point.
Do the Jets hold onto Sam Darnold?
Do the Jets draft a new QB?
Does some crazy situation play out where Trevor Lawrence refuses to go play for Quarterback Shouter Urban Meyer?
Does the Texans-Deshaun Watson feud play right into the hands of the New York Jets?
I’ll be writing more about Deshaun Watson and the Jets later this week. But until then if Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh called me into their office today for advice on how to play the situation, here’s what I would tell them.
First off, I’d tell Douglas & Saleh to be confident in knowing that the Jets are in the driver’s seat on any potential trade. There’s zero chance that the Texans would do a deal to move Watson without triple-checking on the Jets level of interest first. No one is going to pry away the top pick from the Jaguars, so the Jets hold the best realistic chance of actually collaborating as trade partners with someone near the top of the 2020 NFL Draft.
With that in mind, the Jets still need to express an interest to the Texans. The Jets should signal that they are willing to get a deal done if the Texans are serious. So the Jets should reach if they haven’t already to start the dialog.
I’d tell Douglas & Saleh that the Texans are going to want the moon and the stars for Watson and — as a 25 year old quarterback who has already established himself as one of the best players in the game despite a poor job of surrounding him with talent — they deserve to get as much as they realistically can.
When talking with the Texans I’d remind them that Watson will count roughly $40 million against the cap and might want an updated deal since moving out of Texas will subject him state income taxes. Since salary cap sags are likely this year there will only be a few teams in a position to realistically be willing to deal for Watson, who have the draft capital, and are destinations where Watson would want to go.
I’d tell Joe Douglas stand firm on being unwilling to pay more than 3.5 random first round picks (more on that later this week) for Watson. There’s no need to overpay yet as we don’t know who else is realistically in the running.
I’d also them them that the longer we wait, the more rookie derangement syndrome will set in for a team like the Texans and their valuations will only decouple from reality the closer we get.
This is going to be such a fun offseason …
Bassett here! Want to help?
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