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Jets hire Robert Saleh to be new head coach

49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh talks into his

49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh talks into his headset during a game against the Cardinals on Sept. 13, 2020, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. Credit: Icon Sportswire via Getty Images/Icon Sportswire

The Jets definitely picked someone very different from Adam Gase to be their next head coach.

Robert Saleh, the intense 49ers defensive coordinator, has reached an agreement in principle to be the Jets’ new coach, the team announced Thursday night.

The Jets met with Saleh on Tuesday and Wednesday and came to an agreement on a five-year contract on Thursday night.

Saleh, 41, was in high demand during this coaching cycle after leading one of the NFL’s best defenses the past two years. He also interviewed with the Lions, Chargers, Jaguars, Falcons and Eagles and was scheduled for a second interview with the Chargers. The Jets needed to act quickly, and they did.

Saleh first interviewed with the Jets virtually last Friday. They flew him in on Tuesday for a second interview.

The Jets also brought in Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith on Wednesday for a sitdown with team officials. They met again Thursday morning at the team’s facility in Florham Park, New Jersey.

Smith and Saleh were the only two candidates that the Jets met with for in-person second interviews. The Jets held internal discussions on their next steps and decided that they wanted to go forward with Saleh.

"The @nyjets got a great one," 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman tweeted. "Congrats to them!"

General manager Joe Douglas was the point man in the search for Gase’s replacement. Jets CEO Christopher Johnson and president Hymie Elhai were involved, but Douglas led the quest to find a coach he believes can get the Jets back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season.

Gase was fired after the Jets finished 2-14, the second-worst record in franchise history. Douglas said the Jets would "cast a very wide net" in finding their next coach, and he interviewed nine known candidates.

The other seven were Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, former Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady, Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley and Saints secondary coach Aaron Glenn, a former Jet.

Johnson made it clear that he wanted the anti-Gase. The former Jets coach was too focused on the offense and trying to develop Sam Darnold.

"We’re going to look forward to a different kind of coach with this next hire," Johnson said.

Johnson said the Jets were looking for a "CEO" type of coach — someone who could manage the overall team, a good leader and communicator who would change the culture.

Saleh checked a lot of those boxes.

He’s a proven leader who has developed players and gotten them to play hard for him.

During games, Saleh often has been shown on the sideline fired up and pumping his fists after a big defensive stop. He instills confidence in his players.

One of the many criticisms of Gase was how emotionless he was. Todd Bowles, Gase’s predecessor with the Jets, was similar in that way.

Saleh, who inherits a defense led by nose tackle Quinnen Williams, did masterful work in his four seasons as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator.

He took over a group that ranked last in the NFL in overall defense and points allowed in 2016. By 2019, the 49ers were the No. 2 overall defense, a major reason they went to the Super Bowl. This year, despite losing key players to free agency (DeForest Buckner) and injuries (Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Sherman), San Francisco’s defense ranked fifth overall, fourth in passing and seventh in rushing.

Saleh was on the Seahawks’ defensive staff from 2011-13 when their secondary was nicknamed "The Legion of Boom" and helped win a Super Bowl. Saleh helped develop K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner and Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith. The Seahawks were the No. 1 overall defense twice in Saleh’s three seasons as their defensive quality control coach.

He began his coaching career as a defensive assistant at Michigan State and held the same titles at Central Michigan and Georgia before joining the NFL with the Texans as a defensive intern in 2005.

Saleh spent six years in Houston, including three as defensive quality control coach and two working as assistant linebackers coach. He worked three seasons as the Jaguars’ linebackers coach before the 49ers hired him to run their defense.

New York Sports