Could the Jets really be taking the “dys” out of dysfunctional?
Judging from the first impression left by his introductory press conference on Thursday, new head coach Robert Saleh – like his boss, general manager Joe Douglas – seems to get it.
I will nitpick that Saleh’s “all gas, no brake” mantra may motivate players, but a coach does need to possess an ability to take a step back to reassess adverse situations. However, Saleh otherwise struck all the right chords, a 180-degree turn from the same event two years ago when Gang Green handed the keys to a literally wide-eyed Adam Gase.
In contrast to Gase, who seemed to have inconsistent connections with his players, Saleh was most impressive when he talked about the job being “a personal investment in people.” His own life story, from growing up in an Arab-American household in Michigan to leaving his day job to pursue football after his brother, a financial advisor with Morgan Stanley, managed to escape from the 61st floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11, resonates with an audience.
9/11 was a life-changing experience for Saleh, pushing him to pursue his passion for coaching football, and he made sure to mention that his first game as Jets head coach will likely be the day after the 20th anniversary of that solemn event.
Of course, all of this will be forgotten if Saleh can’t end the NFL’s longest current playoff drought of ten seasons. The fanbase is seething. Coming off a disgraceful 2-14 campaign, the Jets need to get this right. Here are three other signs that should give fans hope that they did:
1) An end to organizational chaos
Christopher Johnson, the Jets’ owner until brother Woody returns from his stint as Ambassador to the United Kingdom (he was flying in on Thursday), made news when he announced a change in the Jets’ organization chart, with the team’s head coach and GM no longer reporting separately to ownership. The setup has been a train wreck for the last decade, as these arranged marriages typically resulted in bitter divorces.
Instead, Douglas will be in charge of all football matters, as he should be, while President Hymie Elhai handles the business side. Saleh said he received assurances that roster-building will be a collaborative process, though Douglas will have the final say.
Despite constructing a flawed Jets squad in his first season, Douglas is still widely-respected among experts and has been training for this opportunity since joining the Ravens as a scout in 2000. He’s been a part of two Super Bowl-winning organizations, most recently as the Eagles’ Vice President of Player Personnel in 2018.
Douglas doesn’t need a coach snitching to ownership when he doesn’t get his way, like when Gase ran prior GM Mike Maccagnan out of his office at One Jets Drive in May 2019.
2) United we stand
Not since Eric Mangini’s reign from 2006-08 have the Jets tried the “CEO” approach to head coaching hires.
Under Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles, and Gase, it’s always been offense versus defense.
Ryan and Bowles were defensive gurus and kept a relatively hands-off approach when the Jets had the ball in games. In the last two seasons, Gase was the reverse, leading to a contentious partnership with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was fired after his all-out blitz blew up in the Jets’ face on the last play of a devastating 31-28 loss to the Raiders in Week 13.
The underreported issue there was that Gase was not engaged at such a crucial moment, talking to another assistant while Williams sent in the fatal defensive call. A “head coach” would have noticed the strangeness of a strategy that had never been done in such a situation going back to at least 2006, according to ESPN. He would have at least called a timeout.
Saleh promised to delegate play-calling on both sides of the ball, confirming the hires of Mike LaFleur and Jeff Ulbrich as his offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively. That will leave Saleh free to coordinate the TEAM. What a novel concept!
3) No commitment to Sam Darnold
When Saleh was asked about defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, he said, “I absolutely love Quinnen.” No caveats given.
When asked similar questions about Darnold, the lowest-graded passer by ProFootballFocus.com among the 32 NFL quarterbacks with at least 300 dropbacks last season, Saleh initially offered praise but then said, “There are a lot of things we have to do from an evaluation standpoint with regards to the entire roster, not just at quarterback. To give you that answer right now would not be fair. There are a lot of discussions that need to be had with Joe’s staff and obviously himself.
To give you that answer right now would be premature.”
Despite the ambiguity, it was the right answer. The Jets have a rare opportunity to select the second-best quarterback after Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence in April’s NFL Draft. To get back to this position, they’d have to suffer through another similarly awful season.
So why would Saleh run it back with a QB who has regressed in his three seasons and will be a free agent after 2021 unless the Jets guarantee a fifth-year option for approximately $25 million?
Then again, maybe it will work itself out if Houston really is nuts and solves the issue by deciding to trade superstar QB Deshaun Watson to New York, thereby cementing itself as the new NFL leader in franchise dysfunction.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve Lichtenstein on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.