The New York Jets are on the hunt for their next head coach. Robert Saleh was the mind behind the 49ers’ elite defense, but is he, right for the Jets?
When teams move on from their head coach they almost always follow one simple rule: hire the exact opposite archetype as the guy you fired. If the New York Jets follow through with that, then Robert Saleh may be the guy.
Adam Gase was an offensive mind who was often more focused on scheming than coaching. He let Dowell Loggains run the practices and work with the players. Gase was more known for destroying relationships with players than creating them.
Robert Saleh is the exact opposite. He’s a defensive-minded guy who is known for his big personality and the love his players have for him. Does that sound familiar for New York Jets fans? It should, it’s the exact archetype that Rex Ryan was known for.
Like Ryan, there’s a fear that Saleh’s personality while refreshing at first, would eventually get to be grating. Honestly, fans and the media know that’s not true. His personality will be endearing if the team wins and grating if they lose.
So the obvious question is; will he win enough games?
Robert Saleh began his career as a tight end at Northern Michigan. After graduating he immediately latched on at Michigan State as a defensive assistant. After two years there he held the same position at Central Michigan for a year, followed by a year at Georgia.
Saleh was able to land his first NFL gig in 2005. He jumped on with the Houston Texans as a defensive intern.
Saleh impressed in his role and was hired full-time after the season as a defensive quality control coach. After holding that position for three years he was promoted to assistant linebackers coach in 2009. After two years as an assistant position coach, it was back to the bottom for Saleh.
In 2011, Pete Carroll hired Saleh as his defensive quality control coach. In 2014, he would join former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley in Jacksonville as his linebackers coach.
After Bradley was let go in 2016, Saleh got his big break. Kyle Shannahan brought Saleh with him to San Francisco as his defensive coordinator.
Saleh is now in his fourth year on the job. When he took over the 49ers had the worst scoring defense in the NFL. In year one he got that down to 25th in the NFL, year two it was 28th, year three it was eighth, and this year it’s 17th.
Saleh didn’t have a lot of talent to work with when he came in, but he slowly improved the unit. This past year he had them 17th in the NFL in scoring despite an offense that couldn’t move the ball and a defense devoid of talent. He was without a number of his best players namely, Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Ziggy Ansah, Jaquiski Tartt, and Dee Ford. Richard Sherman also battled through injury for most of the season.
The perseverance his defense showed has drawn the eyes of teams looking for head coaches. Saleh is now expected to interview for the head coach jobs with the New York Jets, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Chargers, and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Houston Texans are the only team who isn’t interviewing Saleh.
Robert Saleh’s 49ers’ defense runs a 4-3 press-zone scheme. If the New York Jets were to hire him, they would move to a 4-3 scheme for the first time since Eric Mangini was head coach.
That may be for the best. A 4-3 scheme would allow Quinnen Williams to stay in the middle next to Folorunso Fatukasi or Nathan Shepherd. That would allow for the most pressure up the middle. The Jets don’t have any edge rushers they need to accommodate that would stop the change either.
The press-zone scheme is an ideal fit for the Jets defense. Brian Poole and Marcus Maye specifically thrived in Gregg Williams‘ zone defense. Both are free agents, but it’s likely the Jets will make a play to bring one or both back.
New York Jets standout rookie Bryce Hall is an ideal fit for press-zone coverage. It’s what he excelled at during his college career and his best games as a rookie came when he was allowed to drop into zone coverage with help over the middle.
From a defensive scheme point of view, Saleh seems like an excellent fit for the Jets.
Is he the next New York Jets head coach?
Robert Saleh has as good a chance as anyone to land the Jets head coach job. If he comes in and nails his interview then there’s every chance he could be hired.
The one thing that the Jets are going to need to know before they hire though is who Saleh wants as his offensive coordinator. Saleh may be a great coach with a strong defensive scheme, but he hasn’t coached the offensive side of the ball.
He’s going to need to bring in someone who can manage that side of the ball well. The good thing for Saleh is the 49ers have two highly sought after offensive minds to fill the role. If he can bring 49ers’ passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur, or run game coordinator Mike McDaniel with him then Saleh becomes a much more desirable candidate.
At the end of the day, I doubt Saleh ends up the Jets’ next head coach. Not because he isn’t qualified, but because a return to Michigan to coach his hometown Detroit Lions seems more likely. Still, Saleh is as strong a candidate for the New York Jets job as anyone.