ROBERT SALEH (pronounced: SAH-luh) was named the head coach of the New York Jets on January 19, 2021. With Saleh and General Manager Joe Douglas, Chairman Robert Wood Johnson envisions a synergy that will bring the franchise to their ultimate goal.
"I think you have a synergy of people," Johnson said earlier this year. "Those two people particularly are on absolutely the same page. That's a positive. Joe knows exactly what Robert needs at every position and they have a long list and criteria that they're looking at."
"He is a collaborative leader," Vice Chairman Christopher W. Johnson said in a statement after Saleh's hiring. "I know he will develop the players on our roster, hold them accountable, and put them in a position to succeed. Most importantly, I believe they will connect with him."
Connecting with players has been a constant under Saleh. "They need a personal investment made into them so they can develop into being great football players," he said after being hired. "They want to be rewarded for what they've gone through, and so players should expect that from their coaches, and from the organization. It is an absolute joy to see them hit the pinnacle of their career, where they get rewarded for it. To give that and understand that part is just being human to me."
"All Gas, No Brake," for Saleh, it is a mindset that goes beyond the team's practice and preparation to everything they do, on and off the field. More than just the players and coaches, it is about the entire organization stepping on the gas and getting better each and every day.
In his first season with the Jets (2021), Saleh oversaw the league's youngest roster with an opening day age of 25.13. Rookies played 5,675 snaps for the Jets and started a league-high 76 games. They became only the second team since the merger led by rookies in passing yards, rushing yards and receiving yards. And while the results weren't always there, the scars and the experience gained through them were.
"These are all scars that they are getting," Saleh said during his first season. "They're learning. You have to learn not to lose first. Then, once you learn how not to lose, you figure out how to win. Then, once you learn how to win, you have to learn how to close games."
As the season progressed, the young roster did just that. Seven of the final eight games were within a score in the fourth quarter, compared to four of the first nine games. Playing those close games against six teams that finished with winning records, including three playoff teams, the team also improved their numbers on defense in points per game, yards per play, pass yards per attempt and yards per rush over the final seven weeks. On offense, they averaged 5.19 yards per carry over the final eight weeks, the second best in the league.
"We were at least one or two most rookie snaps in the league," Douglas said speaking after the final day of the 2021 Draft. "That's a hard thing for a coaching staff to do with so many young players, I think we
all realize that. No one dipped their toe in the water, they cannonballed in, they attacked it, the entire staff developed these young players and the whole plan for that is to benefit the future. So, now we have a group of young players that have played a lot of snaps, a lot of quality NFL snaps. When they're called on to help us again, they're going to be ready. What Coach and his staff did, I can't say enough positive things about that."
Before joining the Jets, Saleh spent four seasons as the defensive coordinator with San Francisco. Since 2017, his group ranked third in the league in passing yards allowed (211.4), holding opposing quarterbacks to the eighth lowest completion percentage (62.9%), while producing Pro Bowl players at linebacker (Fred Warner), cornerback (Richard Sherman) and defensive line (Nick Bosa & DeForest Buckner), while Bosa was also selected as the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press.
The last two seasons under Saleh, the 49ers defense led the league in passing defense (188.6), ranking in the top 10 in passer rating allowed (85.8), completion percentage allowed (62.4%), tackles for loss (154) and defensive touchdowns (six), while also helping San Francisco advance to Super Bowl LIV.
In his final season with the 49ers (2020), Saleh's unit still finished fifth in the league in total defense and fourth in passing defense, despite an injury-plagued season, getting career years from cornerback Jason Verrett, who started 13 games after playing in just six total the previous four seasons and defensive lineman Kerry Hyder, who started 14 games after logging more than 450 snaps in a season just once in his five previous years in the league. Hyder finished the season as one of just 11 defensive linemen with at least 8.0 sacks, 15 quarterback hits and 40 total tackles.
A key part of the team's Super Bowl LIV run (2019), Saleh's defense finished second in total defense, first in passing defense and third in third-down defense, while producing 48 sacks (tied for the fifth most in the league) and 28 takeaways (the sixth most). The San Francisco defensive line saw four players – Arik Armstead (10.0), Bosa (9.0), Buckner (7.5) and Dee Ford (6.5) – all produce at least 6.5 sacks, the only team in the NFL to have four-or-more players with 6.5-or-more sacks. In the postseason, the defense allowed just over 300 yards per game, holding opponents to just 31.4% on third down and producing seven total takeaways, including two interceptions of league MVP Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl, the only game Mahomes had more than one interception that season.
In Saleh's second season with the 49ers (2018), the defense was one of six to allow fewer net yards per game, rushing yards per game and passing yards per game than they did the previous season. In 2017, his first as a coordinator, San Francisco allowed .62 yards fewer per play, the third best improvement in the league. Over the final eight weeks, they ranked second in the league in rushing yards allowed and fourth in yards per carry.
Coaching linebackers for three seasons in Jacksonville, Saleh oversaw a linebacker group that included Posluszny and Telvin Smith as the pair each finished in the top five in the league in total tackles between 2015-16 (according to Radar360). The team's linebackers were also a key part of a Jaguars defense that ranked fifth in passing defense and sixth in opponent rushing average in 2016, and fifth in rushing average allowed in 2015.
Prior to his time in Jacksonville, Saleh spent three seasons in Seattle as a defensive quality control coach, responsible for assisting the defensive staff with day-to-day duties with a focus on the linebackers, while learning an important lesson from Head Coach Pete Carroll:
"The biggest influence I took from Coach Carroll is from a philosophy standpoint," Saleh said in 2017. "Understanding who you are as a person. Understanding what's important to you as a person. And, how to apply it to the message that you're trying to deliver. Understanding that everybody has a style and that
every style is the right style provided you apply it in the right way. So, just from a philosophy standpoint, speaking to people, handling people is where I have my greatest growth from Coach Carroll."
In those three seasons, he helped develop linebackers Bobby Wagner (2012 second-round pick) and K.J. Wright (2011 fourth-round pick) as the two became future Pro Bowl selections. A part of the Seahawks Super Bowl XLVIII winning staff, another of the team's linebackers, seventh-round pick Malcolm Smith, earned MVP honors after Smith registered nine tackles, a fumble recovery and a 69-yard interception returned for a touchdown.
Saleh began his NFL coaching career in Houston as a coaching intern (2005), becoming a defensive assistant (2006-08) and ultimately the linebackers coach (2009-10). Linebackers DeMeco Ryans (2006) and Brain Cushing (2009) each earned Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year honors while Saleh was there and were both selected to the Pro Bowl in 2009. That season, the tandem finished in the top 10 in the league in total tackles (according to Radar360).
Before his start as an NFL coach, Saleh spent four seasons coaching college football at Georgia (2005), Central Michigan (2004), beginning his coaching career at Michigan State (2002) as an offensive assistant/tight ends coach before becoming a defensive assistant/defensive line the following season.
A native of Dearborn, MI, Saleh attended Northern Michigan University where he started for four years at tight end. He earned his finance degree, beginning a career as a credit analyst before getting into coaching.
Saleh and his wife, Sanaa, have seven children, sons, Adam, Zane, Michael, Sam, and Jacob, and daughters, Mila and Ella. Born to Lebanese parents, Sam and Fatin, he is considered one of three Arab-American head coaches in NFL history and believed to be the first Muslim-American head coach.
New York Jets | 2021-Present
Head Coach - 2021-Present
San Francisco 49ers | 2017-20
Defensive Coordinator - 2017-20
Jacksonville Jaguars | 2014-16
Linebackers - 2014-16
Seattle Seahawks | 2011-13
Defensive Quality Control - 2011-13
Houston Texans | 2005-10
Linebackers - 2009-10
Defensive Assistant - 2006-08
Coaching Intern - 2005
Georgia | 2005
Defensive Assistant/Linebackers - 2005
Central Michigan | 2004
Defensive Assistant/Defensive Line - 2004
Michigan State | 2002-03
Defensive Assistant/Defensive Line - 2003
Offensive Assistant/Tight Ends - 2002
Northern Michigan (Tight End) - 1997-2001