Counting down the Top 10 NY sports stories of 2021: No. 5 - Jets hire Robert Saleh, draft Zach Wilson

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  • New York Jets
    New York Jets
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Robert Saleh
    American football coach
  • Zach Wilson
    Zach Wilson
    American football quarterback
Robert Saleh and Zach Wilson Treated Image, Saleh with black shirt and headset and Wilson about to throw
Robert Saleh and Zach Wilson Treated Image, Saleh with black shirt and headset and Wilson about to throw

We're counting down the Top 10 New York sports stories of 2021, continuing our list with No. 5...

With Adam Gase out the door, GM Joe Douglas went into the new year with the determination to get his next head coach right. They had the front office structure. Now it was time to get the on-field coaching set up now and for the future.

Enter San Francisco 49ers defensive whiz Robert Saleh, who many teams believed would be a head coach someday. On Jan. 21, the Jets made it official with an introductory news conference and Douglas explained why Saleh was the man for the job.

"I feel like it was all-hands-on-deck mentality and just working in collaboration with [owner] Christopher [Johnson], with [president] Hymie [Elhai], our staff, our football ops staff, we really canvased the National Football League. And what kept coming back time and time again was how great a candidate that coach Saleh was. So when we talk about our criteria and what we’re looking for from a coach, he checked all those boxes.

“To get an opportunity to meet him for the first time, it just confirmed what everyone said about him.”

Johnson said he was "struck by his presence" when they first met.

"He also clearly communicated a vision of this team that aligns with ours. When we met in person, it validated everything believed following our initial meeting."

And when it was Saleh's turn to speak, he delivered his signature mantra that the Jets have written all over the walls and on T-shirts.

"For our organization, get used to the mantra: All gas, no brake,” he said. “When we talk about, 'All gas, no brake,' we’re not talking about effort on the field. We’re talking about the process of which we do things. We’re talking about the way we prepare, the way we wake up every single morning, the way we rehab, the way we communicate, the way we speak to one another. I cannot tell you enough how excited I am to work with this Jets organization and understanding that when we wake up every morning, we all — from top down — step on the pedal and find a way to get somewhat better from when we woke up.”

So step one of the offseason was complete for Douglas. He got his guy to lead the pack in the locker room.

But even more pressing was what to do at the quarterback position. Rumblings around One Jets Drive and the NFL said Sam Darnold might be out, especially with the Jets owning the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

And there was a class chock full of quarterback talent.

So, as scouts and experts tried to decipher the rumors about who was going where in the draft, BYU QB Zach Wilson consistently came back to the Jets. Douglas and Saleh went to his Pro Day workout together and all but confirmed their thoughts about him as a player. Interviews confirmed their thoughts of him as a person.

A few weeks before the draft, Darnold was indeed traded to the Carolina Panthers, which obviously led to Jets fans believing a quarterback was being taken with their first round selection.

When Draft Day came on April 29, Wilson heard his name called right after Trevor Lawrence went first overall.

"As expected, the Jets took Wilson with the second overall pick – a move that had been telegraphed for months and was cemented the moment they traded Darnold to the Panthers a few weeks back," SNY's Ralph Vacchiano wrote on the day. "The Jets have now drafted a quarterback in the Top 3 twice in four years – a first since the NFL’s merger in 1967. He’s also the 11th quarterback they’ve drafted in the first or second round since their last Super Bowl appearance in 1969."

Throughout his draft process, Wilson heard from many teams but said he always wanted New York.

"Couple weeks back obviously going through the process you kinda know where your projections are and what the media is saying,” Wilson said via Zoom for the first time as a Jet. “But you never truly know until it happens on Draft Day. This is what I was hoping for. It’s what me and my family were praying for was to be in the situation and play for the Jets.”

And Wilson made a promise about his work ethic.

"Someone that’s going to give everything they have,” he said of who he is. “I think that’s the bottom line from day one, I know you gotta work as hard as you can. You got to think you’re working harder than everybody else to get to this point. The Jets are going to get a guy — I’m a big believer in bringing the guys around you together, having a strong connection with them. So that’s a leader. I’m going to be the man they can look up to, they can call for any advice, any help that they ever need."

Saleh and Wilson are now connected forever in this new Jets era -- one fans hope features the tandem the franchise needed to set off a proper rebuild leading to future success.

Counting Down the Top 10 NY Sports Stories of 2021

No. 10 - Rangers firings and hirings

No. 9 - 20th anniversary of 9/11 attacks

No. 8 - Jacob deGromination... then injury

No. 7 - Kyrie Irving vaccine drama

No. 6 - Mets trade for, extend Francisco Lindor

No. 5 - Jets hire Robert Saleh, draft Zach Wilson