Head Coach Robert Saleh Introduction, 1.21
Christopher Johnson: Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us. We set out to conduct a thorough interview process with a number of very qualified and talented candidates. I want to thank them for their time. It was a privilege getting to know each one of you. When we met with Robert (Saleh), I was struck by his presence. He displayed an ability to engage with us in a virtual interview. He also clearly communicated a vision of this team that aligns with ours. When we met in person, it validated everything we believed following our initial meeting. Robert has shown through his journey here that he is a leader, one that will engage the entire team and will partner with Joe (Douglas) to continue building the culture of a winning organization. He has consistently demonstrated the ability to innovate, motivate and collaborate. His character and passion are what this team needs. I’m proud to welcome Robert, his wife, Sanaa, and their growing family as part of our family. With that, I will turn it over to Coach Saleh.
Robert Saleh: Thank you, Christopher. I want to start off by thanking the Johnson family as well as Joe (Douglas) and Hymie (Elhai). I really appreciate this process and everything that we’ve been able to communicate throughout the weeks. I also want to take this time to thank the 49ers family. The York family has given me the opportunity, and (I’m) so thankful for what they’ve done for me my four years there. I want to thank the Shanahan family. Kyle, Mandy, and Mike Shanahan for the opportunity they also gave me and the support they showed throughout those four years. The players, the coaching staff, everybody that’s been involved in this journey from the 49ers organization, I can’t thank you all enough. I also want to take this time to acknowledge my family, with regards to my parents, my siblings, all the different family members back home who have helped me throughout this journey. I haven’t done it alone, and I couldn’t have done it without you. I do want to recognize my wife. She’s the rock that I stand on, she’s the heartbeat of our entire family and without her, again there’s no way that I’d be here today. To our players, myself and the entire coaching staff are beyond excited to work with each and every single one of you. We’re going to do this thing together. For our organization, get used to the mantra, “All gas, no brake.” When we talk about, “All gas, no break,” we’re not talking about effort on the field, we’re talking about the process at which we do things. We’re talking about the way we prepare, the way we wake up every single morning, the way we rehab, the way we communicate, the way we speak to one another. I cannot tell you enough about how excited I am to work with this entire Jets organization and understanding that when we wake up in the morning, we will all – from top down – step on the pedal and find a way to get somewhat better than we were when we woke up. To our fans, we embrace your passion, we embrace your expectations. We cannot wait to go on this journey with you. Please understand, we understand that we have a lot of work to do. But make no mistake that our goal is to win championships. And so again, I cannot wait to get through this journey with all of y’all. It’s going to be an exciting time, and I promise that you’re going to love what y’all see.
Brian Costello, New York Post: Christopher, you said you were open to changing the organizational structure, will you guys change the structure or will Robert and Joe still report directly to you?
CJ: That structure has changed. Joe will report to (ownership), Robert will report to Joe. It seems a clean and simple way to do things, but honestly not much really changes. We have very good communication already. I don’t think that that’s going to alter things here all that much truly.
Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, the Jets have lost 57 games in the last five years, 35 in the last three. There has been a losing culture in that building for a while. What is your plan for changing that?
RS: I understand that. With regards to what’s happened in the past, what we do challenge everybody is to really judge us moving forward. When you look at the plan and what we have in place with regards to scheme, offense, defense, special teams and the mindset at which we’re going to do it, there’s an investment that’s going to be made to one another – coaches to players, players to coaches, organization to everybody – and there’s an investment that’s going to be reciprocated. But understanding that the all gas, no brake mentality that we’re going to have with how we wake up in the morning, how we rehab, how we prepare for meetings, how we take the practice field, how we’re deliberate in everything we do will lead to the results that you’ll see on Sunday. It will take time, but everything we do is going to be designed to win championships in the future. So, when we talk about all gas, no brake, and that mentality, waking up in the morning and putting your foot to the pedal and having that mindset. Again, go to bed better than when you woke up, that’s the mindset we’re going to have. And again, we’re very confident that’s going to lead to championships.
Connor Hughes, The Athletic: Joe, I don’t think you and Robert have worked together in the past. So, when did you kind of realize that he was the right coach for this job, and kind of willing for you to go with somebody you didn’t necessarily know beforehand? And then Robert, I was wondering if you could address Sam Darnold and what you think of him as a player and his potential future with this team?
Joe Douglas: In terms in terms of Coach, this was a daunting task with this search. I feel like it was an all hands on deck mentality, just working in collaboration with Christopher, with Hymie, our staff, our football ops staff. We really canvassed the National Football League, and what kept coming back time and time again was how great of a candidate that Coach Saleh was. So, when we talk about our criteria and what we’re looking for in a coach, he checked all those boxes: the integrity, the passion, the ability to connect. So, getting an opportunity to meet him for the first time, it just confirmed what everyone had said about him.
RS: With regards to Sam, my experience would be, I can talk about the way we game planned back earlier in the season and studying Sam and trying to come up with a plan when we played the Jets. What I can tell you with regards to Sam is that he’s got an unbelievable arm talent. There’s a reason why he was the number three pick in the draft. He’s fearless in the pocket, he’s got a natural throwing motion, he’s mobile, he’s extremely intelligent and he’s tough as nails. His reputation in the locker room is unquestioned, so just that in general, there’s a reason why he was the third pick in the draft and you can see all those qualities on tape and around the building and the way people speak about him.
Dennis Waszak, Jr., The Associated Press: When you left the facility after the in-person interview, at what point did you know that this was the place? I know in your statement you said as the process went, it became clear to you that this was going to be home for you. When did that kind of hit you and when did you know that this was the fit for you?
RS: Throughout this entire process, I come from a very tight-knit community where it’s all family, everything is so tight knit the way people communicate, the way people have each other’s back. So, going through this process from Zoom meetings and then having the opportunity to meet Christopher, meet Joe, meet Hymie, I mean it felt like I was back home. It felt like I was talking to the people in my community. There is a sense of togetherness, everybody is communicating, there’s a collaboration. There’s a sense that everyone has each other’s back and there’s a sense of family, which is very, very important to me. So, when I left this building, there was nothing I wanted more than to have a callback to get back here. I’ve always believed that it’s the people that make things work. It’s the heart and the humility of individuals that make things work, and there’s no question going through this process with Christopher, Joe and Hymie, that’s what they represent. And when you have people who have that mindset, who have the humility, who have the heart to do what’s right for the organization, it’s really, really hard to fail. So, (I’m) really excited to be a part of this and for them to put me into their circle, and I’m excited to get to work.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: Robert, just following up on Connor’s question from a moment ago, you spoke glowingly of Sam. So, my follow to that one is, do you plan to make him your starting quarterback going into training camp?
RS: There’s a lot of things that we have to do moving forward. We’re just getting the (coaching) staff into the building, so there’s so many things that we have to do from an evaluation standpoint with regards to the entire roster, not just at quarterback. To give you that answer right now would not be fair. There’s a lot of discussions that need to be had with Joe (and his) staff. So, to give you that answer right now would be a bit premature.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: Robert, how much say will you have into personnel decisions and how much control will you have over the 53-man roster?
RS: So everything, with regards to a collaboration mindset, with regards to our communication with Joe and his staff – whether or not, who has control, all those different titles, what’s been made clear is that Joe and his staff want to be collaborative and they want to communicate at all levels. So, every conversation that’s had obviously with the staff and with Joe’s staff, there’s going to be a lot of discussions, there’s going to be a lot of different things are talked about. So, obviously Joe will always have final say, but I really see it in the way he’s communicating – I think when you communicate at the level that we have here, who has final say is irrelevant.
Pat Leonard, New York Daily News: Robert, you were on a team that was not long ago in the Super Bowl, so you know what talent looks like. How close do you think this Jets roster is to being a winning football team? Do you think there’s patience in the organization from ownership on down to rebuild a roster and make this a long-term thing? And was part of your alignment with the organization and with Joe maybe how you’re going to use such a premium draft pick to that end?
RS: Like I said before, there’s a lot of things to dissect. You can look at all the reports and read things and obviously we game planned against the Jets earlier in the season. There’s a lot of things that have to be done in the coming weeks to really kind of give you an answer to where exactly we are. I do believe that there’s a lot of talent on this roster. How those different pieces fit to the schemes that we’re about to deploy is going to be decided here in the coming weeks, but like I said, there’s a collaborative effort being made, obviously starting with Christopher Johnson and how he wants things to be run. So, time, all that stuff, like I said it’s all irrelevant. It’s about the communication and doing things to the best of our ability with regards to what’s best for the organization and really giving our players everything that we can to help them be their personal best every single day. So, that’s the main focus right now whether there’s time, where we are now, it’s all irrelevant, because as we move forward, everything we do from this day forward is to win championships. So, those things will kind of reveal themselves as time goes.
Bruce Beck, WNBC: Robert welcome. Gary Kubiak, who has played and coached in this league since 1983 said of you, “People want to play for him. They want to work for him.” My question is, why do they want to play and work for you?
RS: Man (laughter), I’ll tell you what, in my heart I do believe that there’s a respect level with regards to how things get done when people are trying to do things together. Sometimes there’s that notion of coaches coach, players play, and I’ve never taken to that notion. I believe that coaches and players are in this thing together. I believe that the investment that coaches put in the players has to be the equivalent of the investment you put in your children. I mean you’ve got to invest everything you have in your heart and your soul into those players because they’re relying on you to help them be their absolute best so they can show showcase their skills on Sunday. I think when players feel that investment, they feel that you’re giving them everything you have, I think they can’t help but reciprocate that investment and invest back in you as an individual. So, when you get that investment reciprocated, and you’ve got investments on both sides, it becomes personal. And when it becomes personal, it becomes very, very, very special. I think that’s the environment that we’re trying to create here to where everybody in the organization is investing in one another, because like I said, when people invest in one another, you connect on a personal level and when that personal level, a connection is made, you just feel like it’s a responsibility to not let that person down. That’s kind of the mindset, that’s what we want to create here, and it takes a lot of work to be able to get to those points. But again, there’s trust involved and all that too. So, hopefully I answered your question, but that’s just how I see it.
Mark Cannizzaro, New York Post: Welcome to New York. If there was a moment, Christopher, during the interview process with Robert, whether it was on the Zoom or the or the face-to-face, that just made you decide that this was your guy, and what is it about him that you feel is going lead this organization forward?
CJ: It was a slow build, I’ve got to say, it wasn’t a single moment. We knew a lot about Robert before we met on video, but everything we knew was reinforced. Everything built up and we knew we had had someone special coming into the building. When we met him, boy, did that just take off. We knew we had our coach once he was in the building. We still had to go through a process. But it wasn’t one thing. I wish I could tell you. But it’s so many pieces coming together, the connection with Joe, the shared vision. This is going to be a special place going forward.
Mark Cannizzaro, New York Post: And Robert, if I could follow there, when you met the Jets and Christopher, obviously it was during a part of the interview process where you were, if we’re to believe the reports, you had a lot of options, and I’m curious as to what it was about the Jets and maybe you know what you got out of Christopher, what your impression was, that made you make that decision pretty quickly?
RS: Yeah, absolutely, I’ll go back to what I mentioned earlier. When you meet people and you talk to people you can’t help but feel authenticity, you can feel that, and so having that opportunity to visit with them, it didn’t happen until I actually walked into the building and I had a chance to speak with Christopher and speak with Joe and speak with Hymie and the way they interacted with one another and just observing them and how they interacted back with me and this entire circle of communication, you can’t help but feel that connection and so like I said when I walked out of the building I was like, there’s no doubt this is home, there was no doubt in my mind, it just felt like home, it felt like I was back home talking to my high school friends. It’s home and to go into definition on how to explain that, the best way I could, it’s like talking to family and so like I said, I’m excited to be here and I’m just humbled that they allowed me into their circle.
Tina Cervasio, Fox 5 NY: Hello Robert, congratulations. You do already sort of have a tie, to New York, although it is a tie to the tragedy of 9/11, it was your brother’s survival, read a lot about the story, how that really started your journey to football and it was 20 years ago, so if you could just share how that moment, if you feel it does connect you to New York, how it does and how you know 20 years later your first NFL job is with a team in New York. If you could just share a little bit with that with us?
RS: Oh, absolutely, thank you. 9/11, obviously it impacted I think everyone, somehow, someway, somewhat impacted from 9/11. Going through my brother’s experience and the tragedy that he experienced, being able to self-reflect on what I was doing at that moment and realizing that I had a passion for football, really triggered this whole thing. In 2014, we were here in MetLife Stadium, won a Super Bowl with Seattle and now to be here as part of the New York Jets and knowing that our first game is a day after the 20th anniversary, I mean it’s, I’m supposed to be here and I believe that. God does things for a reason and I believe this is one of them and I’m really excited to be here and continue this journey with Jets Nation.
Andy Vasquez: Robert, Joe and Christopher said when they started the interview process that they wanted to bring in someone who could coach the entire team, so how do you plan on doing that and will you be handling defensive play calling?
RS: I’m not going to be handling play calling duties on defense, got the utmost respect and confidence in Jeff Ulbrich to be able to do that. I share the same thoughts as they do, I think the head coach and the message is trying to be deployed to everybody. This is an organization that has to work locked in arms and work together and to ensure that the messaging and the way we want things done all the way across the board is there and maintaining that connection throughout, whether it’s offense, defense, special teams, business to football, somehow, some way, everyone’s got to find their connection to the player and with the mindset that we’re going to get these guys better every single day. And to be able to have that focus and ensure that the entire organization is moving in the direction that we want, I won’t be calling plays.
Andy Vasquez, The Record: And for Christopher, do you have any idea when Woody (Johnson) will be coming back and can you elaborate on exactly what his role will be when he returns?
CJ: Actually, interestingly, perhaps he’s on a plane right now coming back to the States, I think he lands in another few hours. When he is officially principal owner, we aren’t exactly sure, that something has to run through the league, but he will be assuming his duties essentially as principal owner quite soon. He will be chairman, I’m going to be vice chairman, I’m going to be doing an awful lot of the of the day-to-day stuff, all the final decisions will be his. I’ve loved being in this building for the last four years especially, and I’m looking forward to continuing my involvement here. There’s going to be a fair amount of continuity here, my brother and I work really well together, we enjoy each other’s company, we think alike on most things and when we disagree, we find a good place to settle on. So, I’m really looking forward to working with him.
Zack Rosenblatt, NJ Advance Media: Robert, jumping off what Andy (Vasquez) asked, I know he asked you about defense, this offense last year, I’m sure you’re well aware of the stats, they were in last place in a lot of categories, so I’m just curious like how involved do you plan on being on that side of the ball and kind of what do you want the offense to look like in terms of philosophy and in scheme and all that kind of stuff?
RS: No, absolutely, so we’re hiring Mike LaFleur as our offensive coordinator, everyone’s familiar with the whole Shanahan system and what he’s been able to create. Mike LaFleur has been with Kyle (Shanahan) for I think he’s going on eight years now of professional football, which has been his entire career and nobody in the world knows it better than he does, and so to be able to have him and to get John Benton along with us as run game coordinator, really excited about them being able to install the system and implement the vision that we all want to see. A lot of pre snap movement, a lot of help for the quarterback, run mirroring with pass, there’s going to be a clear identity of what we’re trying to accomplish down in and down out on the offensive side of the ball, defensive side of the ball and special teams for that matter. And so, really excited about the vision that we have in place for the offensive side, and there’s no one better in the world then the people that we’ve hired to be able to do that. So, it’s going to be an exciting time for this organization.
Chris Carlin, ESPN New York: Robert, I was talking to Fred Warner just a little while ago about your ability to connect with players and just kind of wondering what your philosophy is when you’re trying to build relationships with players and kind of get the most out of them? And also, he said you’re an incredible storyteller in trying to get your point across, so I’m wondering what you know maybe your go-to is when you’re first connecting with players on that front?
RS: I don’t know about the stories. You know what, I touched on it earlier. Players really want two things from a coach, I’ve always felt this way, one, they want to know that you care about their wellbeing, everyone says it’s a business, I get it, but it’s not, this is a personal investment to people. And the most important people are the ones who strap up on game day and step between the lines. And obviously, can you help them make plays on Sundays so they can get paid as much as possible and that is the goal of every single coach and everybody who has some type of impact on the players or has a connection to the players and that is going to be the goal of this entire organization, is to make sure we do everything we can to connect to their wellbeing and to help them make plays on Sunday so they get paid as much as possible. When you look at the connection part with these players, there’s an investment that has to be made, you got to sell everything you can, you got to give them everything you can and when you do, like I said, the reciprocation happens and when it does, it becomes personal, and that’s all you can ask for, to get this to a personal level where everybody’s has everybody’s back and everybody feels accountable to one another. As far as the stories go, I got a lot of them, but one day maybe I’ll be able to share a couple.
Justin Walters, PIX 11: Robert, welcome to New York. To be the first to do anything is a huge accomplishment, you’re the first Muslim American head coach, I guess, A.) what does this honor mean to you and B.), are you surprised more minority coaches haven’t been hired in the league during this coaching cycle?
RS: It is humbling, because I wasn’t even aware of it, and especially back home, where I’m from, Dearborn, Michigan, so there’s a lot of pride and so it is a very humbling experience. When you look at NFL organizations and you look at the locker room, it’s like the ultimate melting pot of different people and different races and different stories that get together with one goal and so, to be a part of that is special and humbling. As far as diversity is concerned, I know the League has been doing their absolute best to ensure that minorities are included within the leadership roles of every single organization and they keep putting their best foot forward with regards to getting it done. Even though the result may not be where the league might want it to be at this point, I know that the league is working tirelessly to do their best every single year, recreating rules and trying to really encourage that development. So, the league is going to get it right, there’s no doubt in my mind and I can see them working tirelessly to do it.
Mike Vaccaro, New York Post: Robert, there’s this perception that the Jets have a reputation across the league of a certain level of dysfunction, I’m curious what you discovered as you talked to the folks who run the team and if you think that perception and that reputation in your view right now is unfair or fair?
RS: Unfair, clearly. It’s like I said earlier, there’s a clear vision on what Christopher Johnson wants, there’s a clear vision on what Joe Douglas wants, there’s a clear vision on what Hymie wants and together that vision is very unified and the communication that they were able to express throughout this entire interview process, it’s clear, there’s no gray area, it’s all black and white on exactly what they’re looking for. And going through the interview cycle, just listening to people talk, they are authentic as anyone and again, I’m really excited to be a part of this thing because it is, you get perception and sometimes people think perception is reality but it’s furthest from the truth and especially when you actually sit down and speak with each individual.
Dennis Young, New York Daily News. Joe, I’m sure you saw with what happened at the Mets with Jared Porter this week. I’m wondering if you have a due diligence process in place to prevent that type of thing with happening with your hires?
JD: I think from our end for anyone we bring in the building, I feel like we do a great job in terms of going through background check, social media scrubs, so I feel like we have a great process in place.
Dennis Young, New York Daily News: Joe, can you speak specifically to what you do, like do you make sure to speak to any women in this process?
JD: I can’t go into specifics, but I can tell you that we have a great process and we have good people that handle that process.
Andrew Rosario. New York Beacon: Congratulations Robert, welcome to New York. Two questions, the first, over your years, who has influenced you the most in terms of your coaching style? And second, with the team having the number two draft pick, what kind of input will you give in order for the team to make a decision?
RS: First, obviously I’ve had a lot of different people influence me throughout my life, from my parents in the way that they raised me, to my brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and all the different coaches from Bobby Williams giving me my first opportunity, to John L. Smith moving me to the defensive side of the ball, to Brian Kelly, keeping me alive in the business. I can go on and on and on, but you know my time in Seattle with Pete Carroll and Ken Norton, Jr. and Rocky Seto, Kris Richard, Gus Bradley, Dan Quinn, those men for a young 31-year-old, 32-year-old, whatever I was and having a wife with a young baby, for a man starving for knowledge and looking to grow, that was probably the best situation I could have possibly have been in, identifying with myself, connecting myself and really creating my own personal identity. So, to answer your question on who I’m going to be like, I’m going to be like me. And that was a challenge that Pete gave us when we were young assistance, was it’s easy to pick from different people and try to emulate what different people are, but in moments of adversity, your true character will always reveal itself. And so, the challenge was to identify with yourself and be who you are first because then when adversity hits, your authenticity will shine. And so, to tell you who you’re going to get, you’re going to get me. And this entire organization and what we’re going to try to get done is to be designed to win championships. Like I said, I’m excited. Now, to your second part with regards to the draft, again, there’s a lot of different moving parts between now and then and there’s going to be many conversations with Joe and his staff and how things work, what we like for our scheme and how they evaluate talent and so there’s a lot of different conversations that that will take place between now and then. So, to give you that answer would be bit premature.