If you watched Robert Saleh on the sideline during his time as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator, you saw an animated, excited coach who sometimes jumped around, screamed and looked more like a WWE wrestler than a coach.
But that’s not what you see at Jets training camp as Saleh opens his first year as the head coach of Gang Green. Saleh is calm at practice, never raises his voice and usually looks like he is taking everything in, rather than chastising players.
“I’ve never been a big yeller on the practice field, and I’m not really a yeller during the games either,” Saleh explained this week, saying what you saw on the sideline when he was with San Francisco were celebrations. “On the football field, it’s trying to take in as much to help these guys. It’s all about teaching, it’s all about trying to find ways to make them better so they can make those plays on Sunday.”
The past few seasons featured a lot of screaming on the practice field from defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Former head coaches Adam Gase and Todd Bowles, however, were not big yellers.
But Saleh has a calm on the field that even exceeds what those two showed. It could be because he is not calling plays, as Gase did on offense and Bowles did on defense. That allows him to observe more at practice. Saleh usually positions himself behind the offense in team drills, next to offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. It is rare to see Saleh take over a practice, though. He has yet to stop a practice to make the team run sprints as some coaches have done in the past.
When it comes to discipline on the field, Saleh is not Joe Judge, the Giants coach, who has gotten attention for making his players run laps at practice. Past Jets coaches, such as Rex Ryan and Bowles made players do push-ups after committing penalties. Saleh does not believe in that.
“There are many ways to do it,” Saleh said. “For me, it’s more trying to create accountability with self rather than forcing accountability. These players are grown men. To give them the opportunity to correct themselves will always happen first. Obviously, there’s going to be coaching. They’re not trying to make the mistake, all we can do is help them understand how the mistake was made so they don’t do it again.”
Running back Ty Johnson, who has played for many different coaches throughout his football life, said Saleh’s style stands out.
“He’s treating you like a man, you know?” Johnson said. “You’re not like a college kid, a high school kid. He’s like, ‘OK, you know what you did wrong. Let’s fix it and do it 100 miles per hour.’ It’s been really great that he realizes we’re men and he’s going to treat us like men.”
Johnson said sometimes it is “weird” to not have a coach yelling. When he sees a mistake in practice, he looks at Saleh, waiting for a reaction.
“I look back and he’s just walking with his pen and paper but he doesn’t say anything,” Johnson said.
Part of what the Jets’ brass was looking for when hiring a new head coach was someone who could oversee every aspect of the football team and not focus on one side of the ball, as most of their recent coaches have. Saleh said he has made an effort to be in offensive and defensive meetings, even though he still spends a little more time with the defense. At practice, he is now getting used to enjoying it when the offense makes big plays.
“Even as a coordinator, you look at both sides of the ball,” Saleh said. “Obviously you’re focused so much more on one side and the personnel, but you’re always trying to observe both because it’s normal for, at least with us, for us to ask the D-line coach what he thinks of the O-line. … But overall, just from this scope, aside from being able to enjoy all of the explosive plays and trying to be reserved in that regard, that’s probably the only difference.
“Otherwise, it’s engaging and it’s exciting to be able to talk to both sides, and special teams for that matter.”