At the outset, the obvious should be stated for the record: As a Jets fan, you’d rather have a head coach who doesn’t make blunders in endgame situations than a head coach who admits his blunders in endgame situations.
Robert Saleh understands this. At 43, only in his sophomore year, he’s still learning on the job. It’s hard to manage when a sophomore quarterback is learning on the job, too.
But the aircraft boss screwed up in that final drive against the lions On Sunday, when Zach Wilson was working at a higher level than his coach they were both racing the clock. Down 20-17, Saleh should have called one of the three timeouts available to him after finishing second to Garrett Wilson with 48 seconds left. Had he done so, Wilson would have gotten an extra shot, and kicker Greg Zuerlin might have gotten an easier job From 58 yards he missed.
Oh, and Saleh wouldn’t walk out of MetLife Stadium with one unused timeout inside his suitcase.
Working on only half an hour’s sleep, the hapless Salih might have woken up Monday morning and held on for dear life on his initial explanation—that he feared a timeout would lead to a first point reverse in those 10 yards. Garrett Wilson is fishing. He could focus on Defensive malfunctions allowed the immortal Brooke Wright to score the winning goaland on singles and doubles, the quarterback could not deliver between his home runs.
Instead, in another review, Saleh pleaded guilty to a time management offense that effectively wasted 24 seconds, and would be cited among late-season offenses if the Jets missed the postseason cutoff. “It’s something I definitely need to get good at,” Saleh said. “I definitely overthink it, and I wish I could take that back.”
Saleh is hardly the first NFL coach to suffer a brain freeze at the worst possible moment. The Jets got more than their fair share of it. It can get wild and crazy in the last minute of these games, as Bill Belichick rediscovered the hard way in Las Vegas, Where his patriotism rockets in an incomprehensible way to lose.
It happens to the best of them. Although it’s too early to tell if Saleh will grow into a coaching giant, his willingness to take a direct hit from fans and the media reveals the dose of humanity required of all successful captains.
“We’re watching the way Coach Saleh carries himself,” said rising star Sauce Gardner. “And the ability to take charge in the crowd, that’s important there, because most head coaches, they kind of hide behind something. But the fact that he can do something like that shows that he’s a great leader for sure.”
Players keep these things. Accountability is a two-way street, and if the guys in headphones define defeats as botched executions by the guys in helmets and pads, their seasons are likely to fall apart.
The truth is, despite the fact that the 6-3 Jets became the 7-7 Jets, and Saleh had to navigate a lot of Zach Wilson-or-Mike White drama, the team didn’t dissolve. Over the past three weeks, the Jets have lost two tight games on the road to opponents (the Vikings and Bills) who are now a combined 22-6, and a tight home game to the hottest team in football.
The Jets were supposed to beat the Lions, because they should have covered Wright on the fourth-and-inch pass from Jared Goff that changed everything. “It’s a play they staged a lot,” Saleh said. So why didn’t the planes have an answer for that? And why did the Detroit coaching staff come up with today’s crucial call, instead of Saleh’s crew?
Another question related to Thursday night’s game with Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars: When it comes to developing young passers, can defense-minded Saleh and his relatively inexperienced coordinator Mike LaFleur compete with Doug Pederson, a championship-winning coach and NFL quarterback for a while? Long, and his young coordinator Bryce Taylor, who created the legendary Philly Special that helped the Eagles take down the Belichick Patriots in the Super Bowl?
be determined. Meanwhile, Salih spent more time Monday defending Wilson and attacking the “new instant coffee world” that wouldn’t give the QB more brewing time than he did defending himself. “I don’t think there is anyone in this building who looks more inward than me,” Saleh said.
Hassan. The ultimate benchmark in his work, Belichick, once stood in a locker room full of weeping and broken men and blamed himself for perhaps the most devastating defeat in modern NFL history—the Super Bowl XLII loss to the Giants that cost New England a 19-0 season. One of his players, Heath Evans, said, “Other than my father, I have never had more respect for a man at any moment in my life than that man at that moment.”
Sometimes real leadership can be found on the wrong side of the scoreboard.