Robert Saleh could be Jets fans’ version of Bill Cowher, a looks-the-part football firebrand who starts young, wins big and sticks around.
We could use that sort of thing around here, given the bad football and coaching turnover that the past decade has brought for the two New York-area teams.
Making it happen is the trick, of course. So far Saleh is 6-15, which is not ideal.
Fans justifiably are skeptical, having witnessed two home losses already this season, dismal flops against the Ravens and Bengals. But it is not as if Jets supporters do not want the guy to succeed.
They are desperately wishing for it to be so and will get to do so again on Sunday when the Jets host the 3-1 Dolphins in a key, early season divisional test.
The Jets have lost 12 in a row in the AFC East, so “key, early season divisional test” might seem like a strange collection of words.
But it is true, and it is even more true now that second-year quarterback Zach Wilson is back in the fold and showed flashes of what he could do in last week’s 24-20 victory over Cowher’s old team in Pittsburgh.
As much as Wilson’s development has been a focus — as it should be — the Jets’ short-term success also hinges on the development of Saleh as a head coach.
There have been plenty of hiccups and occasional red flags over the past couple of seasons, but if he can keep this thing headed in the right general direction, he can buy himself time to complete the job.
Before practice on Friday, I asked Saleh whether the game had begun to slow down for him as a head coach the way it does for players when they gain NFL experience.
He said that among other things he has become more aware of rules and unusual scenarios that come up on game days.
“There's still a lot of stuff that I'm still learning and hopefully continue to learn,” Saleh said. “But yeah, it's slowed down. But those guys are still fast.”
Saleh is well-regarded around the league as a dues-paying go-getter.
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel knows that firsthand.
When McDaniel went from Denver to Houston in 2006 with coach Gary Kubiak, Saleh, about to lose his job as a member of outgoing coach Dom Capers’ staff, basically willed himself onto Kubiak’s crew by staying put and making his case.
In effect, he declined to be fired and just hung around until he was asked to remain.
McDaniel never has forgotten that gumption, and the two have been close ever since.
“Always a sponge, always unbelievably smart,” McDaniel said of Saleh this week.
He recalled that when the Texans’ office printer acted up, Saleh never called for tech help. “He would just open up this manual and figure out this stuff,” McDaniel said.
“He’s never been given anything, just like he wasn’t given the job with Gary Kubiak in 2006,” McDaniel added.
Saleh said on Friday that he does not enjoy coaching against close friends such as McDaniel.
“It's just a hard deal, because you're going for blood, and you don't want to do that with somebody that you admire and care for,” he said. “But at the same time, we get it. It's part of the job . . . When the game starts, it's about the Jets and only the Jets.”
Saleh has emphasized since the end of last season the importance of winning AFC East games, and he also would like to establish MetLife Stadium as a home-field edge. This is a chance to do both of those things.
“We want it to be something special,” he said of home games. “We want it to be loud. We want the advantage. We want people to worry about us when they walk into our stadium and worry about our fans and the volume and how loud they get.
“And part of that's our responsibility, to give our fans something to yell about, to make sure that the visiting [fans] aren't overcrowding the stadium because people would care to watch it at home.
“We want our fans to want to come to the stadium. And then we'll eventually earn that love.”
Fans would love to love him back. Just win.
The Jets, who face the division-rival Dolphins at MetLife Stadium Sunday, have lost 12 straight games to AFC East teams dating to 2019. Coach Robert Saleh has lost the last six of those games:
Date Opponent Result
Jan. 9, 2022 at Buffalo L, 27-10
Dec. 19, 2021 at Miami L, 31-24
Nov. 21, 2021 Miami L, 24-17
Nov. 14, 2021 Buffalo L, 45-17
Oct. 24, 2021 at New England L, 54-13
Sept. 19, 2021 New England L, 25-6
Jan. 3, 2021 at New England L, 28-14
Nov. 29, 2020 Miami L, 20-3
Nov. 9, 2020 New England L, 30-27
Oct. 25, 2020 Buffalo L, 18-10
Oct. 18, 2020 at Miami L, 24-0
Sept. 13, 2020 at Buffalo L, 27-17
Jan. 29, 2019 at Buffalo W, 13-6