New Jets coach Robert Saleh takes a timeout before training camp kicks off to huddle with Post columnist Steve Serby for some Q&A.
Q: What do you recall about the very first time you watched Zach Wilson play?
A: You watch his tape and it’s fun. He’s making all these throws, and he’s throwing off platform. What was interesting about Zach’s tape is that the offense they ran at BYU’s very similar to the offense that we run here and that whole Shanahan system with the play-action passes and the off-schedule throws and all that. And so you could see him, and you can visualize him in a Jets uniform making all those throws on Sundays — because the plays, the formations, the angles, the platforms, the throws to the sideline, all of it was very similar to what we do here. As he was doing it, just the arm talent, the imagination, the grit, the toughness, all of it just popped off the tape, and then we got a chance to speak to him. It’s gonna be a fun process to watch this kid grow.
Q: So love at first sight then?
A: I think it was a buildup, because you see the tape, you’re like, “Wow, this is cool!” After so many years you see a lot of clips where you see stuff flash on tape and then you talk to the person or you see him live in person and it’s like, “Nah,” whatever it is. But for him, it was like, all right, let’s talk to him, talked to him, boom! Checked the box. Let’s go see him in person, boom! Checked the box. Have more conversations, and so he just kept checking every single box, and the more boxes he checked, the more confident we got in making him our next quarterback.
Q: What kind of a leader is he now and what kind of a leader will he be?
A: As a rookie, it’s gonna be more by example than anything. He’s a relentless worker, loves film. He’s always trying to gather the troops, put in some work and put in some film study, which is good. But we’ll see. I’m a believer in servant leadership, in that it doesn’t matter whether you’re the quarterback, the first man on the roster, the 90th man on the roster, everybody can lead in their own unique way, and servant leadership is helping those around you, making those around you better.
Q: Does he have a little Patrick Mahomes to his game?
A: So when you look at the style of play, people will talk about Aaron [Rodgers] and Mahomes because of the off-platform arm angles, the improvisation and all that stuff. So yeah you could say that. I don’t want to say he’s Mahomes yet, obviously he’s got a lot to earn with regards to that, but when it comes to the off-schedule, being able to throw off his back foot with an awkward arm angle and someone in his face and throw a dime, he’s got that capability.
Q: What is your backup quarterback situation? Will a veteran surface at some point?
A: We’ve got the guys we have [Mike White, James Morgan]. They had their moments in OTAs, they’ve had good, they’ve had bad, but at the same time they’re getting better, and that’s all you can look for. But right now we have our three quarterbacks in house, and we’re excited to work with ’em.
Q: How is Mekhi Becton’s foot, and is his weight a concern?
A: He looks good from a foot perspective. I’m not one of those guys who is big on weight, whatever weight you need to be as long as you’re as strong and as fast as you possibly can be, and so everyone’s different. We’ve had, in our past, linebackers who weighed 210 pounds, but they’re able to cope or keep up in the NFL world. The same thing with O-linemen. There have been O-linemen in this system who’ve played at 280, and there have been O-linemen who play at 340 and 350. Mekhi is a very big man, and if he can line up and play fast and play physical and play strong, I really don’t care what his weight is.
Q: How would you sum up your offensive line at this point?
A: It’s a young group, and it’s one that’s gonna jell here over the next month.
Q: Whatever comes to mind: Elijah Moore.
Q: Corey Davis.
A: Grown man.
Q: Carl Lawson.
Q: How is he unique?
A: When you look at Carl, he doesn’t check the boxes of what you would look for in an edge rusher with size, length, speed, whatever you want to call it. Then you turn on the tape and all he does is kick everybody’s ass. If you’re just looking at a sheet of paper, you would look right over Carl Lawson and you would never give him a second look. But if you turn on the tape, you would think he’s 6-foot-6, 300 pounds with 35-inch arms just destroying people.
Q: Quinnen Williams.
Q: C.J. Mosley.
Q: A guy or guys you’re excited to see?
A: I’m excited to see Jarrad Davis in our system. I think he’s got a chance to resurrect his career in a way based on where he’s in a system that more caters to his style. I’m really excited to see Lamarcus Joyner in our system. And then there’s a lot of competition going on, there’s competition at the nickel, corner spots, so those are gonna be fun to watch. I’m really excited to see this D-line, I really am. I’m really excited to see how explosive this group is.
Q: Do you have concerns about the cornerback position?
A: No, no, it’s a very young group. … Someone’s gonna come to fruition. Bryce Hall had a really nice OTA, Bless [Austin] was having a nice OTA, then he had a minor setback with an injury that kept him out. He’s good to go. Some of the rookies had a chance to showcase their skills. And so we’ve got a really good young nucleus of guys that are gonna compete, and we’ll see how it goes.
Q: What percentage of your team is vaccinated?
A: I haven’t gotten that number yet. We’re gonna hold off until after we have the physicals and the check-ins.
Q: Will you address your team about the NFL’s COVID policy — forcing a team with an unvaccinated outbreak to forfeit if the game cannot be rescheduled?
A: We’ve done it since OTAs, every chance we get we educate the players the best we can with regards to the rules and what vaccinated versus non-vaccinated players can and can’t do. It still comes down to personal choice, so … there’s a lot of things that come into play for each individual.
Q: How do you teach a team that hasn’t won in a while how to win?
A: Oh man, that’s a great question. It comes down to success, right? And capturing those moments of success, and highlighting those moments of success to each player as they happen. It comes down to individual confidence, and then individual confidence becomes positional confidence, and positional confidence turns into a unit confidence. And when that unit becomes confident, maybe the team can become confident. So it starts at the individual level and just helping these young men see how they’ve gotten here for a reason, and to show that they’re still capable of doing exactly what they’ve always been able to do their whole entire lives. And it comes with being very diligent, both coaches and players in capturing those moments of success and putting them in your memory bank and trying to recapture those moments as often as possible.
Q: Why doesn’t New York scare you?
A: Call me crazy, but with the advent of social media, I feel like everywhere you go, especially in this profession, everywhere’s New York. Everyone is quick-triggered, everyone blogs, everyone has an opinion and all that stuff. But, and I get New York is the media capital, it’s the best city in the world. If you take care of your job and you do your job, and you win, you’re a winner. It’s no different anywhere else. If you lose, you’re a loser, it is what it is. You can’t control the volume at which people yell, but you can control the work that you put in every day and do your best to make sure that volume is positive.
Q: Was there ever a time that you were not comfortable in your own skin?
A: Way back when I was little (laugh). I’d say way back in elementary when I was probably a little hairier than all my friends and I got made fun of. But I’ve moved past it (laugh).
Q: What is most impressive to you about GM Joe Douglas?
A: He has got a tremendous amount of conviction, he’s got a philosophy, he’s got a standard, he’s got a core belief system in how he wants to operate every single day, how he scouts players, the vision of what his players will look like, and because of it, when he speaks, there’s a very consistent message that he delivers day in and day out. And because of that consistency and because of that conviction, you know it’s coming from his heart and there’s no fluff, there’s no B.S.
Q: I’m guessing he would say the same about you.
A: I don’t know. … I hope so (laugh).
Q: What have you learned about Woody Johnson?
A: Woody wants to win. Like everyone, he wants to know. That doesn’t mean that he’s trying to meddle and force decisions, but he asks tremendous questions … and the Johnson family, because Christopher also, they want to win. I judge ownership by support and what they’re willing to do for the organization to win football games, and Woody and Christopher, for that matter, have been nothing but supportive. Whatever this organization needs, if you can show that it’s the reason why it’s gonna help us win, they’re all-in. There’s no stipulations, there’s nothing. They want to win football games, and to their credit, they have a tremendous amount of support for it.
Q: How does a 17-game season impact “All gas, no brake”?
A: It doesn’t change. You add emphasis with regards to the player and taking care of their body, but that whole “All gas, no brake” mantra and all that stuff, it’s best defined as going to bed better than when you woke up. And whether it’s a one-week season, a 10-week season, a three-week season, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a life model in terms of go to bed better than when you woke up, do something and work your butt off to be a little bit better, and that’s everyday life, whether it’s to win a football game or just be a better father, friend, it doesn’t matter, wife, husband, doesn’t matter.
Q: Have you picked the brain of former first-year head coaches?
A: Obviously Kyle [Shanahan] and Matt LaFleur and Sean McVay, Kevin Stefanski, we’re all pretty close. I’ve had an opportunity to talk to all those guys. … Gus Bradley is a confidante. … So I’ve had a chance to talk to a few coaches, Gary Kubiak and Papa [Mike] Shanahan, so I’ve been fortunate.
Q: What’s the best single piece of advice you got from any of them?
A: When I first got hired, Coach Kubiak told me a story about how he was sitting at his desk, and he was overwhelmed with all this paperwork, didn’t know what to do, and I guess Jeff Fisher if I remember right told him, “Just remember: It’ll get done.” So that was the advice, that, hey, just relax, take a deep breath and just know that no matter how big the mountain is, it’s gonna get done. And so you just keep chopping away.
Q: Do you plan on asking Joe Judge what coaching in New York-New Jersey is like?
A: We’ve had some conversation, nothing about what it’s like to coach in New Jersey or New York for that matter. We’ll see him in the preseason. I’m sure we’ll have opportunities to talk and cross paths.
Q: What do you recall about Kyle as a rookie head coach when he had that rocky start with the 49ers?
A: I remember our 2017 season, ’cause everyone sees the record 0-9, but I think we had broken an NFL record for consecutive games (five) losing three points or less, it was bizarre. But Kyle, he’s steadfast, he’s very strong, he’s got tremendous amounts of conviction in his style of coaching. It doesn’t mean he’s stubborn, but he definitely has a philosophy and a standard at which he abides by, and his strength whether you’re winning or losing, his consistency is what I think drives that team and the standard never changes. There’s no panic in the building. Because you win doesn’t mean you can let off the gas, and just because you lost doesn’t mean you step on the gas. This is who are we are, this is who we are every day winning or losing. His style is, in my opinion, the common denominator in why most of these head coaches are so successful.
Q: What’s the biggest adversity you’ve faced in football?
A: In 2020 when we [49ers] came down here [and beat the Jets and Giants], we lost Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Richard Sherman, we lost pretty much half our defense it felt like. To see those men just rally around each other and still maintain the confidence that it was a top-five unit and still play to the level and the standard that we had all established over four years. That to me was a really, really adverse moment, especially coming off of a season in which we felt like we kind of blew that last game [Super Bowl LIV to the Chiefs].
Q: Have you gotten to talk to or meet Joe Namath yet?
A: Not yet, he came [up] in conversation [Thursday]. I’m really looking forward to meeting him. Everyone who talks to me about him says what an amazing man he is.
Q: How is your wife Sanaa your rock?
A: Oh man … so we have seven children, as a lot of people are aware of. So I get to go to work. She stays home and she grinds and she does everything she can to raise seven beautiful children the best way she knows how. She’s unflappable. Good days, bad days, she’s just a rock. Win, lose, she’s there, and she keeps us rolling. So with out her, none of this is happening.
Q: What do you think you’re going to be thinking … the night before the season opener is the 20th anniversary of 9/11?
A: It’s surreal, don’t you think? Through tragedy, I’ve been fortunate to have a series of events that have happened to me in a positive way [older brother David escaped from the South Tower]. 9/11 triggered my coaching career. New York is where I was part of a [Seahawks]team that won a Super Bowl [XLVIII over the Broncos], so it’s my one and only Super Bowl. And now we’re here in New York as a head coach on the 20th anniversary, and we’re the 20th head coach for the Jets. It gives me goosebumps. I don’t know, we’ll see. I’ll shoot you a text and tell you how I felt on Sunday morning (laugh).
Q: Why will you win, and what would your message to Jets fans be?
A: We’re gonna win here because we have the right people, starting from ownership all the way down — players, scouts, general manager, coaches. I really believe we have the right people, people who absolutely love this game and will do everything they can to protect it. The message to the fans is that we are a young group, and it is gonna be an exciting journey, and we’re really, really excited to go on a journey with the fans and everybody involved with Jets Nation.
Q: Condolences on the tragic passing of [assistant coach] Gregg Knapp.
A: Thank you so much.
Q: Best of luck, thank you.
A: Yes sir, I’ll text you before the game (laugh).
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