FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP)Robert Saleh jogged off the field with a huge smile, spotted general manager Joe Douglas pumping his fists on the sideline and the New York Jets coach jumped into his arms.
The burly Douglas lifted Saleh for a few seconds while Saleh vigorously patted the back of his head.
The Jets had just knocked off the previously undefeated Philadelphia Eagles – Douglas’ team for four years as a front office assistant before coming to New York – and it was time to celebrate.
“I was pumped for him,” Saleh said. “Whenever you play a former team, you just want to get them. I just know whatever joy we were feeling on the field, I promise his joy was up there with us, maybe even more elevated. So, happy for him to get that win on his resume.”
That 20-14 victory last Sunday was also good for Saleh’s resume.
It was perhaps the biggest win in his three seasons as coach and lifted the Jets to 3-3 going into their bye this week. It’s an unlikely mark after Aaron Rodgers tore his left Achilles tendon four plays into his debut on Sept. 11. It appeared even more far-fetched when the Jets were sitting at 1-3 after an embarrassing loss to New England.
“There has been a lot of adversity within this organization with all the different things that have transpired,” Saleh said. “But the resolve and the resilience of the group that we have in the locker room, the effort that’s put in day in and day out, on Sundays, I think has been evident.”
An aggressive and opportunistic defense and a solid special teams unit have been among the biggest factors, especially while Zach Wilson and the offense continue to try to be more consistent and productive.
Saleh has been another reason. Perhaps the biggest.
He’s credited with keeping the locker room on an even keel and offering perspective through clever analogies, such as the season being like scaling Mount Everest and comparing “haters” to the “crows pecking at our neck.”
“All you can do is spread your wings and keep flying high,” Saleh said before the season began, “until those crows fall off and suffocate from the inability to breathe.”
The players point to his calm, but assertive demeanor in practice and meetings and his emotional approach on the sideline in games, where he celebrates their accomplishments throughout.
“I love Robert,” Rodgers said on “The Pat McAfee Show” on Tuesday. “Robert has been great since Day One when I came in there. I love the way he leads. He’s an alpha. He really cares about the guys a lot. He sets kind of the vision every single week. He doesn’t change, the standards don’t change, the accountability doesn’t change.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s talking to the youngest guy on the team or myself, the oldest guy on the team – it’s always, the standard is the standard. He holds guys accountable. He’s a fantastic coach.”
The four-time NFL MVP is rehabilitating in Southern California and said he was “kind of on the fence” about flying to New Jersey to rejoin his teammates for the game against Philadelphia. So he asked Saleh what he thought.
“Need you out here, buddy,” Rodgers said Saleh told him. “And that was cool.”
Sure enough, Rodgers was on the sideline – no crutches or walking boot – with a headset on during the game and serving as an inspiration for his teammates. And that came after he was throwing passes on the field during warmups, less than five weeks removed from surgery.
During the Jets’ appearance on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” during the summer, the cameras were largely focused on Rodgers and his interactions with teammates and coaches. Some viewers thought Rodgers was portrayed as more of the team leader than the coach himself, with some wondering if Saleh was really fully in charge.
While Saleh acknowledges he’s still growing and improving as a coach – clock management and play calling among the areas – his standing in the eyes of his team is not in question.
Saleh has been known to highlight his players’ “super powers” when talking about what makes them valuable members of the team. It applies to the coach, too.
“His superpower, I think, is he’s just a very good leader of men,” tight end Tyler Conklin said of Saleh. “And I think he’s a really good leader of men because of the way he lives his life. It’s hard to follow somebody when they don’t do what they say. And he lives by his words.”
Conklin mentioned how Saleh jogs the stadium steps a few hours before every game – home or away – and how the coach works out regularly. The players notice, and it sets the tone.
“We work hard as a team and we grind,” Conklin said. “And he does that in his life. I think he’s just a really easy man to follow.”
Wilson said it was tough to single out one thing, but thought the culture Saleh has established has been key to the Jets handling all the ups and downs of the season so far.
“Absolutely no quit,” the quarterback said. “I think the messaging he gives every single day is his superpower of how to bring a group together.”
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