On Thursday, the Jets introduced Robert Saleh as their new head coach, hoping he can turn around the last decade of futility. Saleh brings a lot of optimism with the hire. He was one of the top coaching candidates for multiple teams, and Detroit fans had hoped the Michigan connection would be a strong pull to bring Saleh to the motor city.
Saleh spent the last four seasons as defensive coordinator for the 49ers, his first ever coordinator position. Inheriting the worst defense in the league, in three short years Saleh had the 49ers toward the top of the rankings--only one team allowed fewer yards in 2019. That season ended in the Super Bowl, as the team eventually lost to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Despite numerous injuries to defensive starters this season, Saleh managed to keep the defense together for another stellar season where the 49ers ranked 5th in total yards. Missing starters such as Richard Sherman and Nick Bosa forced the defense to adapt, and Saleh’s experience and knowledge should instantly improve the Jets’ defense, which has ranked in the bottom quarter of the league three of the last four seasons.
Born and raised near Detroit, Saleh played tight end in college for Northern Michigan. After graduation, he embarked on his coaching career at Michigan State, first as an offensive assistant coach in 2002 before moving to the defense the following season. Since then, he has coached exclusively on the defensive side of the ball. Saleh coached one final season in college at Central Michigan in 2004 before moving permanently to the NFL.
In 2005, Saleh was hired as a defensive assistant for the Houston Texans, working closely with the linebacking corp. During his six seasons in Houston, he coached linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing en route to AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
After six seasons with the Texans, he moved to Seattle as a defensive quality control coach for the Seahawks working closely with the linebackers again. During his time with the team, he helped oversee the early development of linebackers such as future All-Pro Bobby Wagner and Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith. He spent three years with the team, and won the Super Bowl with the Seahawks after the 2013 season.
After Seattle, he spent three seasons in Jacksonville as the Jaguars linebackers coach. In his first dedicated role as a position coach, he helped the defense improve throughout his tenure. In 2016, his final year in Jacksonville, the Jaguars ranked 6th in total yards allowed.
Throughout his career, Saleh has coached tough, high-performing defenses. One of his biggest lessons he learned from Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is that “everybody has a style and that every style is the right style provided you apply it in the right way.” That flexibility served the 49ers well during a challenging 2020 season. Jets’ fans should hope he continues to apply that flexibility as he remakes the Jets’ philosophy and team identity after a decade of playoff-free football.
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