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What's Interesting About All Four Coaches in AFC East Having Defensive Backgrounds?

Robert Saleh Joins Sean McDermott, Brian Flores and Bill Belichick in the AFCE


Throughout the offseason, reporters Eric Allen, Ethan Greenberg, Randy Lange and Olivia Landis will each give their predictions to a series of questions regarding this year's Jets.

Today's question: What's interesting about all four coaches in the AFC East having defensive backgrounds?

EA: While it's interesting that all four head coaches in the AFC East were defensive play-callers during their careers, they also share strong leadership characteristics and similar coaching philosophies. Bill Belichick, one of three HCs to win six NFL titles, is synonymous with "Do Your Job" in New England. Dolphins HC Brian Flores, an understudy of Belichick's in New England, has things pointed north in Miami after a 10-win season, and he continues to preach work ethic with a "Takes No Talent" philosophy. Sean McDermott has led the Bills to three playoff appearance in his first four seasons including a trip to the AFC title game in the 2020 season by stressing, "Controlling what we can control." And new Jets Head Coach Robert Saleh has brought "All Gas, No Brake" to the East Coast. The AFC East HC quartet all believe in minimizing distractions, focusing on the task at hand, and playing with great effort and enthusiasm. Substance and process over flash and quick fixes. They also are CEO-types who have assigned defensive play-calling duties to their assistants and have the big picture in mind with their teams. Belichick is in the argument for the greatest coach in NFL history, McDermott is off to an impressive start, Flores has quickly led a turnaround and many league observers believe that Saleh was an outstanding hire for a Jets team in the midst of a build.

EG: The AFC East is the only division in the NFL with all four head coaches having defensive backgrounds. That's particularly interesting considering the league has developed into a passing game. But what's the best way to stop potent offenses? Good defenses, which we saw in Super Bowl LV. In the case of the AFC East, I think all four coaches have leadership qualities and similar coaching philosophies. They all want to lead teams that play fast, hard and are disciplined. Despite missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006, Bill Belichick's Patriots committed the fewest penalties in the league, 62. The Dolphins, led by Brian Flores, who is a Belichick disciple, finished with 73, which was the third fewest in the NFL. Sean McDermott's Bills made it to the AFC championship game after making the playoffs in the 2019 season. They've been on a steady climb since he took over in Buffalo in 2017 with GM Brandon Beane, with three winning records in four seasons. He's animated on the sideline with his team, but gives off a calm presence. I think Saleh will be similar. When Jets GM Joe Douglas and Vice Chairman Christopher Johnson described what they were looking for – a CEO-type leader who has a vision, someone who will set the standard and connect with the players on all three phases – I think all of the AFC East coaches fit that mold and the track record of Belichick, McDermott and Flores are all favorable.

RL: Three of the four head coaches in the AFC East have some indirect Jets links. Robert Saleh was defensive quality-control coach for Seattle's Pete Carroll, who of course was the Jets' defensive coordinator for four seasons and HC in 1994. Bill Belichick will be remembered not only for his New England reign but also for planting his own coaching tree from which Miami's Brian Flores sprang after his Patriots tenure from 2004-18. And Little Bill is from the Big Bill tree, coaching for Bill Parcells with the Giants and then with the Jets for three seasons (and a day) from 1997 into the 2000 offseason. Buffalo's Sean McDermott escapes easy Jets connections, although he did became familiar with the Jets every preseason as Eagles coaching assistant and assistant coach from 2001-10. But to me the most significant thing that can be said is that while all the division's head coaches have defensive backgrounds, it doesn't mean great offense can't happen. Belichick has shown that, as have Parcells, Carroll and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin among a few others. Their secret? Having a great quarterback helps. So here's hoping Saleh builds the defense he wants, determines the right signal-caller and other key players for his offense, beats his AFC East competitors to the punch, and sets out on a long, happy marriage with the Green & White and their fans.

OL: When the search for a new head coach began after the conclusion of the Jets' 2020 season, Vice Chairman Christopher Johnson said that the candidate needn't have a background on offensive or on defense. When Robert Saleh became the Jets' new HC, however,, he also became the fourth head coach in the AFC East with experience on the defensive side of the ball. For many years, the AFC East wasn't the most competitive division in the league, with the Bills, Dolphins and Jets chasing the Patriots and defensive guru Bill Belichick. After Brian Flores (Miami) and Sean McDermott (Buffalo) joined, the AFC East became more competitive. Last season, the Bills, Patriots and Dolphins all finished among the top 10 in total defense in the AFC and among the top 20 in the NFL. Saleh had success over four years as a defensive coordinator with the 49ers, leading his defense to a top 10 ranking as San Francisco advanced to Super Bowl LIV run.

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