In an exclusive interview last week, the Jets' head coach Robert Saleh spent more than one hour fielding questions from some of the team's season-ticket holders in a spirited conference call. In this first of two parts, Saleh speaks about his general philosophy and approach to coaching men in the NFL.
Q: What did you learn in Year 1 that you wished you had known on Day 1?
A: I have enough friends in the business that kind of prep you for what to expect in Year 1, but they all say it, and no matter how much you prepare for something, it's always more than what you expected when you actually have to do it. So, the administrative aspect of being a head coach and the number of people who walk in and out of your office, and the lack of time that you have from a football standpoint. We got here because of our football acumen.
Trying to balance that was probably the biggest learning curve. But I felt really good about how the season ended in terms of how to allocate time, making some adjustments this offseason, hopefully we can get even more ball in. So, the biggest learning curve as a coach is the administrative aspect and the number of different people and departments that you have to deal with on a daily basis.
Q: How do you assess a player's character during an interview?
A: I've always believed, money only makes you more of what you already are. So, these young men are coming into this profession and they're going to be getting money thrown at them. So, you can't just discount what you're reading, you can't discount what you're seeing, it's very, very important to dig deep and get to the root of who these men are as individuals. You have to understand when this person comes into the building, whatever you think the issues are are only going to exacerbate with money.
So, we're just trying to figure out what makes these young men tick, why they play the game, do they play the game because they like it or because they love it. There's a distinct difference between the two as well because when you look at guys who play the game because they like what it does to their brand, or are they playing the game because they absolutely love everything about it. They love the football part of it, they love the studying, they love rehab, they love training, the locker room, they love everything. Those are the ones that usually work out in this league. So, you study, you dig deep, and you try to figure it all out, and between now and the draft [April 28-30 in Las Vegas] that's exactly what we're doing. That's exactly what the entire league is doing -- trying to figure out which guys are going to stand the test of time in regard to longevity in this league and being productive.
Q: How do you motivate your players? Or do they need any extra motivation?
A: There's two types of people, internally motivated vs. externally motivated. Externally motivated people have a certain feeling and what they're capable of once they've reached that external motivation. I mean what else are you fighting for. If you're internally motivated, you're always striving to beat yourself, when it's internal you're always trying to perform every day.
So, in a global sense it is about us. Do we study trends, do we study schemes, and do we stay at the forefront of evolution? Absolutely. But as far as our philosophies in what we look for from a character standpoint, an athlete and how they fit in our scheme, it's about us. As we go into gameday it's about us. We focus on us, and the belief is that if you focus on you and make it about you and you do everything to maximize who you are, then you'll make the great ones look normal and you'll embarrass the bad ones. That's just where we are from a mentality standpoint and what we're trying to develop here.
Q: What was your favorite moment in your first season as the Jets' head coach.
A: My single favorite moment, I'll be honest with you, from a gameday experience was the national anthem at the opening game. Chills through my spine that here we are after all this work after all these years and it was a pretty cool moment, personally. From a team standpoint, I can't speak for everyone, but when Tennessee missed that field goal in overtime, that was a pretty cool first win. There are so many cool moments. Beating Cincinnati, watching our guys and Ron [Middleton] lead our guys to a win over Jacksonville was awesome. Some pretty cool moments throughout the season, but I'll have to single it out to that first national anthem. That was a really cool moment.
Q: How do you stay true to yourself dealing with the pressure of being a head coach?
A: It goes back to trusting who you are as an individual and trusting your philosophy on what you want to get done. There's stress and there's pressure. You can separate them into two different categories. Stress is something that you have zero control over, so when you have media and fans and people on the outside constantly pouring in what they believe that needs to happen and there's all this type of noise from the outside, to me that's stress. You have zero control over that and the more you try to control that narrative and all that outside noise, the more chaotic things get and that's where you start to make unsound decisions to appease the external motivator that really should have no effect on what's happening.
Pressure is something you have full control over. That's all the noise that's in the building, all the messaging and staying strong so you can stay sound in all the decisions you make and trust your process is going to work. Does it always work? No, but if you stay true to your process and what you believe in and keep the pressure on, which is internal, you're going to make good decisions that put you in position to win. As soon as you start listening to all that external stress, that's when people go a little bit crazy.
Q: I appreciate the passion. It's only February, but it's about next season and measuring success. What do you view as a successful season?
A: So that's where we get cliché-ish. Obviously the goal of every team is to win the Super Bowl. Really, there's only one team that's happy at the end of the season. There are teams that are satisfied and there's always teams that are wanting more and other teams that are really angry with what happened. But there's really only one happy team.
You really have to stay in the moment. It goes back to the things I talked about in regards to stress over pressure. If you're really thinking about the things in the future that you really have no control over, then you're not able to expend 100 percent of the energy you do have in the moment. The more we daydream about tomorrow, the less you have to attack the day. And I know it's probably not the answer you want, from a cliché standpoint, but it's the truth. The goal of every person in every profession and every person in life is to own the moment and the more we think about things we have zero control over and start daydreaming.
Yeah we have long-term goals, but you can't think about it while we're trying to maximize the moment. From an expectation standpoint, we wake up every morning, put our foot on the gas and we attack every single day and find every way to get better whatever the result is. We want to close the gap with the division, we all agree it's significant. And it's something we're continuing to attack every single day. Today, tomorrow and forever.
Q: In terms of facing adversity, in particular with a young group of men, if a player blows coverage, what does the staff do to get the player and team to get back to work?
A: When things happen in a game, you have to be able to move on. You have to be able to look at corners who have a short memory, so when they get beat can they line up and go play like nothing happened. And those are the guys you covet, for the most part it's the way most players are built. When you get to the next day in the film room looking at tape, to see what went right and what went wrong, there's an old saying that you treat both imposters the same whether positive or negative you have to treat them the same.
What I mean by that is complacency happens when you're winning, so you buzz through the tape and when you lose it's time to be hard on yourself and try to figure it out. But the reality is whether you win or lose, whether there's adversity or success, there's always tremendous teachable moments in those events. So when you're dealing with adversity you attack it no differently than if you had success. Learn from the mistakes and the whys you had success. If a player has a bad game, there's also good things that he did. So you focus on the why and really come to a conclusion or an answer for those questions so we can get better and things don't happen again. If we stay focused on the whys, adversity is never an issue, treating them as an opportunity to get better.