The New York Jets have a new head coach in Robert Saleh, former defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. Anyone who's followed the Niners' title-contending defense in recent years has likely heard his name, and Jets fans should know right off the bat that he probably can't be much worse than Adam Gase or Todd Bowles after watching their team go 23-57 from 2016-20.
But who is Saleh, really? Better yet, what should Jets faithful expect from the first-time head coach as the new leader of the team?
As the 2021 offseason gets underway, here's an instant peek at what the 41-year-old Saleh brings to New Jersey:
Intense and player-friendly leadership
If you're reading this as the polar opposite of Adam Gase's coaching style, you're probably not totally off-base. Jets general manager Joe Douglas is an internally well-liked front-office personality (unless your name is Jamal Adams), and it stands to reason he was eyeing a similarly relatable figurehead for the staff. And for as much as Gase may have earned the respect of some, like quarterback Sam Darnold, there's no question Saleh is just a more expressive personality. For crying out loud, the guy is known as much for his explosive sideline celebrations as his dominant San Francisco defenses.
It's not just that Saleh is physically imposing -- a muscular specimen whose aggressive fist pumps mirror the intensity of his players. He's been compared favorably to Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, one of his chief mentors and boss from 2011-2013, because of his glass-half-full approach with both fans and players. Some of his best former pupils, like the 49ers' Richard Sherman, have endorsed his motivational skills. Having a CEO-type personality is one thing, and translating it to on-field success is another, but there's no question New York has upgraded when it comes to having its coach connect to the locker room.
A technically sound and aggressive 4-3 defense
This one goes without saying, but Saleh's calling card is defense, where the Jets finished as the ninth-worst unit in the NFL during Gase's final year atop the staff. It's safe to say New York's "D" will get a physical and philosophical makeover under Saleh, who runs an aggressive 4-3 scheme rather than the hybrid 3-4 variations seen under former coordinator Gregg Williams. The key pieces (Quinnen Williams, Neville Hewitt) will still have big roles, but it'd be stunning if Saleh and Douglas didn't team up to prioritize restoring the trenches and cornerback spots this offseason.
More than just personnel changes, Saleh figures to bring an influx of fundamentals, which helped him keep San Francisco's unit afloat even amid a rash of injuries in 2020. The Niners ranked among the league's leaders in tackle percentage despite losing depth at different points in the year, and Saleh consistently found ways to maximize talent in the front seven. There could be some growing pains as New York swaps in new faces on the field, but one thing fans should expect is more discipline throughout the unit.
A run-oriented offense
This may not sound especially enticing if you're a Jets fan, but everything about Saleh's coaching journey suggests it's coming. As an up-and-comer with the Houston Texans, he would reportedly sit in on then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's meetings, eventually reuniting with Shanahan and his run-heavy approach in San Francisco. He studied heavily under Pete Carroll, whose Seahawks have long desired a ground-first approach. His best friend is Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who's emphasized the run game to help Aaron Rodgers. And he's expected to tab LaFleur's brother, Mike, as his Jets offensive coordinator, carrying over a passing system that was directly tied into the Niners' rushing attack.
This doesn't mean Saleh is averse to throwing the ball. Heck, his Jets may very well spend a high draft pick on a new QB. But he saw in San Francisco how much a strong ground game can lift a QB, and a powerful rushing attack would go hand in hand with a stout defense. Don't be surprised in the least if one of the new coach's top priorities, outside of beefing up the defense and resolving the long-term QB issue, is infusing a couple of new faces into the running backfield and letting LaFleur build around a play-action strategy.