Ron Middleton found out this morning that he'll be the interim head coach of the Jets this week for Robert Saleh, who has tested positive for COVID. But if Middleton is pumped through the roof at this opportunity that could include coaching the Jets against the Jaguars — his team of the previous eight seasons — at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, it would be hard to tell from his slow, plain-talking Alabama drawl, or from the words that came out of that drawl.
"There's a good plan in place," Middleton told Jets reporters during a Zoom interview after Wednesday's practice. "Robert's done a great job of hiring staff, and he's very clear with his plan. I'm not reinventing the wheel here, just keeping the ship steered in the right direction. So far, no issues. Hopefully, it stays like that."
Middleton said he anticipates no problems, either, regarding Saleh's intention to continue to run all team meetings virtually this week.
"That's hasn't been etched in stone yet. I only found out about this 45 minutes before we went out to practice," he said. "There are some logistics and things we've got to clean up but it shouldn't be an issue."
But as for on-field work, Middleton's the man in charge until Saleh gets cleared. And while he has no head-coaching experience on his curriculum vitae and said, "I was an associate head coach at Duke and I had to run a practice one day," he was in his element with the Jets today.
"Everything's been positive," he said. "Basically, I told them we're all professionals, nobody knows what's going to happen, but what we do know is that we have a game on Sunday, at this point. Maybe that changes tonight, tomorrow, day after, who knows? But right now, we're getting ready to practice and we're all professionals. ... So, let's go out here and let's practice and let's get better and let's start preparing to get ready to beat the Jaguars on Sunday."
And this despite having good relationships with many still in the Jacksonville organization, even with the arrival and recent departure of Urban Meyer as the Jaguars head coach.
"Those guys will tell you they want to beat me as bad as I want to beat them, and that's just the way it is," Middleton said. "Whenever you go to a different team, competing against friends — and I consider a bunch of people over there my friends — you want to beat them. It doesn't make it easier by no means, but it's going to be fun."
Middleton wouldn't speculate on why Saleh chose him to man the helm until Saleh can return. But no question the two bonded when their assistant coaching careers overlapped with the Jaguars from 2014-16. While Saleh went west to serve as the 49ers' defensive coordinator from 2017-20, Middleton remained coaching the Jags' tight ends. And when Saleh got the Jets job and needed a TEs coach and Middleton was available, that was a no-brainer.
And, Middleton explained, having this coaching transition arise this late in the season is helpful, even the goal is always the same.
"I think these guys know what type of person I am, what type of coach I am. They know that I'm strictly team. There's no selfish or personal deal in it at all," he said. "Whatever I can do to help this team beat the Jaguars on Sunday."
See the Top Practice Images from Wednesday of Jaguars Week at 1 Jets Drive