Several Jets players met with the media on Zoom calls the day after the team’s season ended. They all were asked what the Jets, who had just finished 2-14 for their fifth straight losing season and 10th out of the playoffs, were missing.
Each one gave a similar answer about the Jets lacking an identity and a winning culture.
The Jets hope they have solved that problem with the hire of Robert Saleh as their new head coach. Saleh comes to the Jets after stints with successful organizations like the 49ers and Seahawks. He has one Super Bowl ring and went to another.
Saleh made an impression on the Jets’ decision-makers that he can be a desperately needed agent of change for the organization. He seems to have the personality and makeup to inspire and push the team in the right direction. It is something the Jets have struggled with at head coach under Adam Gase and Todd Bowles.
“Offense, defense, special teams, it doesn’t matter,” Saleh said this season about his philosophy. “It’s the mindset of the person in charge that creates an atmosphere in which players compete and players fight for one another, and players have a genuine love for one another.”
Saleh served as a defensive quality-control coach for the Seahawks from 2011-13. That is a low-level position, but Saleh got to watch Seattle head coach Pete Carroll work every day. Culture is an overused word in sports, but Carroll has created a culture in Seattle.
“The one thing that in Seattle that they pushed a whole lot of was just the culture,” said Jets offensive tackle George Fant, who played for the Seahawks from 2016-19. “We’ve got to change the culture. We’ve got to bring culture here. I think that’s what they’re committed to doing.”
Fant pointed to Carroll as the one who sets the tone in Seattle.
“Everywhere is different. In Seattle, Pete is the culture,” Fant said. “The way he comes to work every day with excitement just makes it feel like you’re not at work. You’re having fun playing football and bonding as teammates and coaches every day.”
Bowles and Gase both tried to establish a culture, but failed. Neither one of them had the outsized personality to establish change immediately. They both thought they could do it over time by bringing in certain kinds of players and by winning. Rex Ryan changed the Jets’ culture when he walked in the door, the players bought in when the team started winning, and it led to two AFC title games. The Jets then let some key team leaders walk out the door and the team feel apart. The Jets have been trying to regroup since.
For too long now, there has not been any identity to being a Jet.
“Just a true identity,” linebacker Tarell Basham said at the end of the season about what the team lacked, “as far as what you see when you look at the D-line, what you see when you look at the secondary, what you see when you look at the offensive line, what you see when you look at our receiving corps, an identity. That’s one thing I feel like we’re missing.”
Players come and go and there is no tradition handed down, the way there is with teams such as the Ravens, Steelers or Patriots. Saleh won’t be able to change that overnight. It will take time, and general manager Joe Douglas must stock the roster with players who will remain here longer than two years.
Still, Saleh feels like he can change the conversation around the Jets when he walks in the door. In a way, he already has, when you look at the fan reaction to Thursday night’s announcement. Jets fans have not been this universally pleased with a decision in a long time.
Saleh spoke in 2017 about how Carroll influenced him.
“The biggest influence I took from coach Carroll is from a philosophy standpoint,” Saleh said, according to ESPN. “Understanding who you are as a person. Understanding what’s important to you as a person. And, how to apply it to the message that you’re trying to deliver. Understanding that everybody has a style and that every style is the right style provided you apply it in the right way. So, just from a philosophy standpoint, speaking to people, handling people is where I have my greatest growth from coach Carroll.”