The Jets have hired Robert Saleh, the San Francisco 49ers' defensive coordinator for the past four seasons, as their head coach.
Saleh becomes the Jets' 20th head coach in franchise history and their 18th coach appointed to take Green & White reins before the start of a new season.
Four years before interviewing for the Jets' head-coaching opening, Saleh had a major California decision to make about his coaching career: go south to Los Angeles to reunite with his mentor, Gus Bradley, who had become the Chargers' defensive coordinator, or north to San Francisco to join Kyle Shanahan's 49ers staff as a linebackers coach and with the D-coordinator's position still to be filled.
Saleh went with Shanahan to coach his LBs but didn't give up on the coordinator's post. "Why don't you just interview me?" he said to Shanahan in a 2018 profile on 49ers.com. "I was a good QC, I was a good linebackers coach. I'll be a good defensive coordinator."
Shanahan finally agreed to interview him, and realized Saleh's grasp of Bradley's defensive scheme. And Saleh brought with him not only his X's and O's but also his motivational skills and his technical expertise, which might've been acquired when he was working as a young corporate lender back home in Dearborn, MI or just as much when he was punching computer keyboards as a college graduate assistant and a pro QC — quality control coach — on his way up the coaching ladder.
Saleh's 49ers defenses showed steady progress in each of his four seasons. In his first year, 2016, his units improved from 32nd-ranked in the NFL the year before in total defense, rush defense and scoring defense to 24th, 22nd and 25th respectively. Then the Niners D moved into the top half of the league in many categories in '18.
In '19 San Fran finished second overall in the league in total defense — with its 281.8 yards/game allowed the best by the team since 1997 — and first in pass defense — with the 169.2 pass yards/game allowed coming in as the best in the NFL since Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine's Jets defense allowed 153.7 pass yards/game in 2009. After coaching up that 49ers unit, Saleh received The Sporting News' Coordinator of the Year award
Then in this just-completed 2020 season, San Francisco checked in as a top-10 defense in total yards (fifth), rush yards (seventh) and pass yards (fourth).
Besides the quantity, there is the quality. Any number of NFL players, coaches and observers saw the traits in Saleh that made him one of this offseason's hot head-coaching candidates. Two 49ers captains said so in a short piece on FanNation | All 49ers on si.com.
"He makes sure there's no gray area in terms of coaching and teaching," LB Fred Warner said. "There are a lot of coaches out there who just coach, but he's a great teacher. All those things put together is what makes the product you see on the field."
And CB Richard Sherman said Saleh wasn't getting enough credit for his personal next-man-up philosophy, which kept SF in the NFL's top-10 defensive rankings despite an avalanche of injuries in 2020.
"I expect him to be a head coach next year because of what he's able to do," Sherman said. "He's able to rally men. He's a leader of men. And that goes a long way."
Similar rankings occurred in Saleh's previous pro stops in the previous 16 seasons. At Jacksonville from 2014-16 he was the Jaguars' linebackers coach, and the team improved to sixth overall and fifth vs. the pass in his final season with the Jags. From 2011-13 he was Seattle's defensive quality control coach focusing on LBs and the Seahawks defense rose to No. 1 in the league overall, vs. the pass and in scoring in his last year in the Great Northwest in 2013.
He held three different titles in six seasons with Houston from 2005-10 and the Texans moved into the top half of the league in many defensive categories in 2009, his first of two seasons as assistant linebackers coach.
Along the way, Saleh had a hand in the rising careers of such players as linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing in Houston, LBs K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner and Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith with Seattle, Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith in Jacksonville, and D-linemen Nick Bosa and DeForest Buckner in San Francisco.
A native Michigander, Saleh grew up in Dearborn and started at TE for four seasons at Northern Michigan University. Before entering the pro coaching ranks, Saleh extended his Michigan roots with two seasons as an assistant coach at Michigan State and one at Central Michigan before a brief stop at the University of Georgia in 2005 before heading to Houston.
Saleh's parents are Lebanese and he is Muslim and speaks Arabic. He and his wife, Sanaa, have four sons and two daughters.
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