Robert Saleh is not the next Jets head coach -- at least not yet -- after the 49ers defensive coordinator left One Jets Drive without a deal on Wednesday afternoon.
So where do the Jets go from here?
There are several different directions they can turn, but their first step will be to bring a second finalist in for an in-person interview -- Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, who has been the hottest assistant coach on the market so far. Smith was en route to New Jersey on Wednesday evening, according to NFL Network. The 38-year-old had just completed his second interview with the Atlanta Falcons and is scheduled for a second interview with the Detroit Lions on Friday.
If he makes it to his scheduled interview with the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, he will have met with all seven NFL teams currently looking for a head coach.
But a source cautioned not to read into this that Saleh and Smith are 1-2 on the Jets’ list, though they might indeed be. Jets GM Joe Douglas has promised to cast a “wide net” in the search, and a source insisted he always intended to bring in multiple finalists for second, in-person interviews.
So Douglas could bring in more candidates if Smith leaves without a contract. He could also expand the search, or even circle back to the 41-year-old Saleh.
Here’s a more detailed look at what the Jets might do next:
Immediately lock on Smith, or another top choice: If the Jets want Smith they might have to move quickly given the number of teams interested in him. He could conceivably get an offer from the Falcons at any time or one from the Lions when he meets with them again on Friday.
Any team can hire him right now, since the Titans were already eliminated from the playoffs.
In fact, there are four candidates from the Jets’ first round of interviews that they could hire immediately if they wanted, including Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady, Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, and former Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.
The fact that Smith is next up could be an indication that they value him more than others. It could also be a sign of their urgency given how much interest he’s drawn around the league.
Turn right back to Robert Saleh: This depends on whether he was “a leading candidate” for the job, as one source said, or the leading candidate, as others speculated. There was a lot of talk around the NFL that once Saleh arrived in Florham Park, N.J., on Tuesday night for meetings with Douglas, CEO Christopher Johnson and team president Hymie Elhai that the Jets would try not to let the 49ers defensive coordinator leave their building and head to other interviews.
The fact that he left, though, doesn’t mean he won’t be back, assuming he’s the Jets’ choice. Though Saleh has interviewed with the Jaguars, Chargers, Lions and Falcons and was planning to meet with the Eagles on Wednesday night, it’s not at all clear that he’s going to be offered any of the other jobs. There’s speculation he could be one of the top choices in Detroit or a fallback candidate for the Jaguars if Urban Meyer doesn’t land in Jacksonville, but that’s it.
So he could always circle back to the Jets after looking at the other options. Or at any time the Jets could try to make him an offer he simply can’t refuse.
Wait out the coordinators still in the playoffs: Waiting is always the hardest part, and it’s hard to say how long the Jets would actually be willing to wait for a new coach. But four of the candidates from their initial round of interviews have playoff games this weekend, including Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who one source said is one of the coaches high on the Jets’ list.
Daboll, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley and Saints defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn, can’t do an in-person interview with another team until their seasons are over. They could all be available as early as Monday, or maybe none of them will be. It’s hard to imagine the Jets would wait much longer than next week for any of them, but who knows?
Expand the search: This is the least likely of the options, but Douglas isn’t limited to the nine candidates in his net so far. There is still the possibility that he’ll talk with former Eagles coach Doug Pederson, if he decides he wants to coach in 2021. He can also zero in on a candidate from the college ranks, though it doesn’t appear as any of his suspected top choices are interested in jumping to the NFL.