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Jets hire 49ers DC Robert Saleh as next head coach

Jack Baer
·Writer
·3 min read
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The New York Jets have hired San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as their next head coach, the team announced Thursday.

Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Saleh has signed a five-year deal. He will also reportedly be taking Niners passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur with him to be offensive coordinator in New York.

Saleh will replace Adam Gase, who was fired at the conclusion of the 2020 NFL season after two straight sub-.500 seasons in New York.

After four seasons running the San Francisco defense, Saleh will inherit a team that finished 2-14 this past season, and still has some major decisions to make.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh talks into his Bose radio headset during the NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals on September 13, 2020, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by MSA/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
There's a new head coach in New York. (Photo by MSA/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Robert Saleh was one of the biggest names on the market

The most surprising thing about Saleh’s hire might be it happened this year rather than in 2020. Saleh firmly established himself as a rising star in 2019, when his Niners unit ranked second in the NFL in total defense and reached the Super Bowl.

Saleh, who will reportedly be the NFL’s first Muslim head coach, got an interview to become the Cleveland Browns’ next head coach, but ended up staying with the Niners. One of the most difficult jobs in the league awaited him, as the Niners defense (and offense) was injury-riddled beyond belief in 2020, losing Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas for the season in Week 2 while still trying to make up for the absence of All-Pro DeForest Buckner, who was traded to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Niners finished 6-10 this season, but still ranked fifth in total defense. That is one of Saleh’s greatest achievements.

A charismatic and popular presence in the Niners’ locker room, Saleh received an endorsement from one of the team’s most outspoken players on his way out.

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Saleh’s career dates back to a defensive assistant job with Michigan State that began in 2002. Before that, he was working for Comerica Bank in Detroit with a degree in finance from Northern Michigan. His career path changed on Sept. 11, 2001, when his brother David, also working in finance escaped the World Trade Center after the first plane hit.

The experience left the Dearborn, Michigan native rethinking his career, and the results have now taken him to one of the most high-profile jobs in football. Just like this season, a major challenge awaits for him.

Will Sam Darnold be Saleh’s QB with Jets?

There’s no question that the Jets have some thinking to do after a season that was unsuccessful, but not unsuccessful enough. The Jets were on track for the first overall pick on the 2021 NFL draft, where generational prospect Trevor Lawrence awaits, but that selection ended up going to the 1-15 Jacksonville Jaguars.

The 2-14 Jets will pick second, and it is there that the team’s direction under Saleh will be decided.

Quarterback Sam Darnold has disappointed since the team took him third overall in the 2018 draft, but will still be only 24 by the start of the next season. The Jets could keep him and either draft a major building block (Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith or Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell) or trade the selection for more assets.

If the team moves on from Darnold, there are plenty of non-Lawrence quarterback prospects in the draft. BYU quarterback Zach Wilson and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields would likely be the favorites to go second overall if the Jets follow that plan.

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