Robert Saleh is not a rookie NFL head coach anymore, and his record is 4-14, so he no longer gets a pass for the stuff that comes out of his mouth publicly.
Thus there was no excuse for his odd decision before the Jets’ season opener to say it was possible that quarterback Zach Wilson would play, even though it was not.
But Saleh trumped that quotable moment with a much bigger doozy Monday.
After the Jets opened with a 24-9 dud against the Ravens, he told reporters he was “taking receipts on all the people who continually mock” the team, and later added on ESPN New York radio that he could not wait “to shove it down everyone’s throat when it comes around.”
All of which was an early-season gift for people who get paid to talk about sports on the radio and TV or write newspaper and website headlines.
It also mostly was received poorly, particularly among those who interpreted it as taking a shot at fans (always uncool) more so than media members (much less uncool).
Well, if I may: I liked it, not only because it was a welcome moment of emotion and candor from an NFL coach, but because the entire point was for Saleh to show that he has the backs of his coaches and players amid a negative, cynical outside world.
How was what Saleh said that much different from one of the oldest tricks in the coaching/managing book: “No one believes in us! Let’s prove them wrong! It’s us against the world!”
“Taking receipts” was just a 2022 way of putting it from a coach who at 43 is older than his players but younger than many fans and professional opiners.
Look at it this way, Jets Nation: If Saleh gets this team into the playoffs, takes out a box full of his “receipts” — OK, more like a shipping container full of them — and starts calling all of us out by name, will you be mad or glad?
The point here is to win, and if firing up his players means hurting your feelings or mine, who cares?
On Friday, linebacker Kwon Alexander, a Saleh lieutenant from their days together in San Francisco, said, “We are taking receipts, and we’ve got his back. That’s our head coach, and we’re going to ride for him, legendary or bad. We’ve got his back, for sure.”
Saleh spent a good chunk of his Wednesday news conference clarifying what he said Monday, and insisted he was not “necessarily taking a shot at anybody.”
But he did not back down.
“You [reporters] caught me in a passionate moment, defending the locker room, and that was about it,” he said.
“My words, my display of emotions, which I do my best to control up here, is that I’ve got conviction. This is not the ‘Same Old Jets,’ but until we win, until we prove it, which is on us as coaches and on us as players, the shots will keep on coming.”
Again, if I were advising Saleh on media matters, perhaps the words “Same Old Jets” are best left unuttered, even if there is a “not” in front of them.
But Saleh is willing to learn. He said Monday’s mini-rant was “a lesson in, you can’t control the outside noise and you can’t convince people of what you see. They have to go see it.”
That task begins with a visit to the Browns on Sunday.
If the Jets lose, the receipts will pile up even faster and deflate what is left of the positive vibes that came out of a promising offseason.
Here is hoping Saleh and his team get this figured out, because Jets fans deserve some victories and some stability, or at least meaningful games in December.
Saleh seems to have what it takes to be a keeper here, a smart, sane guy in what can be a silly, neurotic line of work.
Go ahead and shove it down fans’ throats if you win, Coach. It will taste a heck of a lot better than what they have been fed for the past decade.