By all indications, Robert Saleh “won” his introductory press conference on Thursday, telling the world to “get used to the mantra ‘all gas, no brake’” and letting the fans know that “we embrace expectations, and while we have a lot of work to do, make no mistake our goal is to win championships, and I promise you will all love what you see.’”
Saleh’s journey to the Jets’ head coaching job ostensibly began on Sept. 11, 2001, when his brother survived the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The tragedy and near-loss of a loved one led Saleh to realize coaching was his passion, and a year later he began a nearly 20-year journey so far that has included more than a half-dozen collegiate and NFL stops.
But both he, and the Jets’ brass, seemingly knew their marriage was love at first sight.
“This was a daunting task with this search, an all hands on deck mentality – but we really canvassed the NFL, and what really kept coming back was how great a candidate Coach Saleh was,” Jets GM Joe Douglas said during Saleh’s introduction. “He checked all the boxes in what we were looking for, and getting to meet him for the first time just confirmed what everyone had said about him.”
“It was a slow build. We knew a lot about Robert before we met on video, but everything we knew was just reinforced when we met him,” owner Christopher Johnson added. “We knew we had someone special coming into the building, and when we met him, it took off. We knew we had our coach once he was in the building.”
Saleh felt the same, but as he told Carton & Roberts on Thursday hours after his introduction, he was especially sold knowing that the Jets still wanted to go through their process before deciding on him.
“The meetings went so well, they really did, and my desire to be here only grew stronger – but at the same time, I can’t help but appreciate that, even knowing the meetings went so well, they still wanted to finish their process,” Saleh said on WFAN. “No emotional decisions were made – they wanted to go through the process, which spoke volumes to me. I knew that if they called back, they did so because they collaborated and communicated and went through the process. It gave me more conviction about what I already knew – they want to get things done right.”
In his answers during his press conference, Saleh often went back to his thoughts that talking to the Jets felt like talking to his family, and feeling like New York was “home” from the outset. He is all about community and collaboration, and trusting that everyone on his staff and in the building has the same goal and is on the same page – playing into that “CEO-type” coach the Jets wanted – and felt that sense of community from minute one.
“When you meet these people and talk to them, you can feel their authenticity. Having that opportunity to visit with Christopher and Joe and Hymie (team president Hymie Esmai)…when I walked in the building and saw the way they interacted with one another and with me, I couldn’t help but feel that connection. When I walked out of the building, there was no doubt this was home.”
And Saleh is going to extend that mentality down to his staff and his players, from the coordinators on down to the last man on the practice squad.
“In my heart, I do believe there’s a respect level to how things get done when people try to do things together. I don’t believe coaches coach and players play – we’re in this together,” he said. “The investment coaches put in players is the equivalent of the investment parents put in children. You have to put them in position to show their absolute best, and when you do that and they reciprocate, it becomes personal, and that’s when it becomes special. That’s the environment we’re trying to create. When personal connections are made, you feel a responsibility to not let that person down. That’s the mindset we want to create here, and it takes a lot to get to that point.”
Saleh intimated that he will be somewhat of a “players’ coach,” noting that the two biggest things a coach can do for a player are genuinely care about their well-being, and help them be the best they can be on Sundays to advance their careers.
“That is the goal of everyone who has an impact on the players, and that will be the goal on this entire organization: to connect to their well-being and help them be the best players they can be,” Saleh said. “You have to give them everything you can, and when you do, the reciprocation happens and it becomes personal, where everybody has each other’s backs and is accountable to one another. There’s an investment that’s going to made to one another throughout the organization, and the ‘all gas, no brake mentality’ will lead to the results you’ll see on Sundays.
And, while Saleh has worked under (and shouted out) some great coaches and had high praise for Pete Carroll, he doesn’t want to be the next “so-and-so,” he wants to be the first Robert Saleh, and that’s thanks in part to Carroll’s advice when he was an assistant in Seattle.
“For a young man with a wife and a young baby, starving for knowledge, (Seattle) was probably the best situation I could have been in to connect with myself and create my identity,” Saleh said. “I’m going to be like me, and that was the challenge Pete gave us. It’s easy to pick and try to emulate what people are, but in moments of adversity, your true character will come out. So be yourself, because when adversity hits, your character will shine.”
And hopefully, the Jets will shine under Saleh. The past is the past, and this is a new era, but there’s one other thing he wanted to preach, at least to the fan base: patience.
“We challenge everybody to evaluate us moving forward. It will take time, but EVERYTHING we do will be designed to win championships in the future.”
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroWFAN