Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Historic Robert Saleh hire sparks loooong-lost feeling of hope for this Jets fan

Robert Saleh is ready to J-E-T-S.
Robert Saleh is ready to J-E-T-S.
Image: Getty Images


I do not understand. This does not compute. It simply cannot be that the New York Football Jets have gone and done something that hasn’t made me either irate, confused, sad ... or simply emotionless. I go through life as a Jets fan resigned to a fate I accepted four decades ago when I stupidly landed on this team as my be-all, end-all. Why oh why did I ever ...

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[Robert Saleh enters the chat ...]

Oh.

OH! Hello there, Coach Saleh. I suddenly feel ... funny. I feel ...

Hopeful?

Wow, I haven’t felt hopeful about Gang Green since halftime of the Jan. 24, 2010 AFC Championship Game, up 17-13 on Peyton Manning’s Colts. A mostly-blowout loss in that same game one year later was the end of the apex of the Rex Ryan era — and probably my entire Jetsian lifetime.

Since then, they’re 59-101 with one winning season. If you wonder why I haven’t watched a full Jets game since Adam 🥔 Gase’s googly-eyes introductory presser, wonder no longer. I simply lost the will to root for a team that brought in yet another guy who wasn’t ready for prime time. (Or even the local news before it.)

Robert Saleh is ready. Beyond ready. More-than-Rex-Ryan-brashly-bursting-through-the-door-like-the-Kool-Aid-Man ready. (Oh, yeah!) 

Saleh just … exudes ready. His defense nearly won a Super Bowl for a team helmed by Jimmy Garoppolo (“the vanilla ice cream of QBs” — h/t Jon Helmkamp), holding the unstoppable force that is Pat Mahomes at bay for three quarters. Saleh’s opportunity has been coming since then, and I’m honestly shocked that of all the jobs he’s interviewed for, he landed in Florham Park, N.J. He could’ve ended up in Cleveland after last season, but they did just fine with Kevin Stefansky. Saleh interviewed with the Falcons, Lions, Jags and Chargers this offseason. He was set to interview with Philly. With the possible exception of the perpetually Lionsy Lions, all of those are better gigs than rebuilding this Jets team (again!). His hiring Thursday by the decade-long clown-prop bonfire organizing committee that is the Jets front office was as surprising as it was welcome.

Saleh still needs to make the right call on an offensive coordinator for the most pitiful offense in NFL history (hyperbole font) to make this a slam dunk. But I somehow, against all reason for a Jets fan, trust him to nail that first big call as a head coach. After that, all he has to do is bet his future on the No. 2 pick in the draft. No pressure. Sure seems like Trevor Lawrence will be off the board to Jacksonville. Beyond that, it’s a whack-a-mole draft. Me, personally? I know most prognosticators see Justin Fields here, but I want DeVonta Smith. Give me a game-changing wide receiver to help whomever inherits that offense. Even if Sam Darnold isn’t the answer, Smith will instantly improve his game. If Darnold can’t click with an all-world talent like that, Saleh will know it’s time to move on and it’s not like this first season is win-now. However the draft shakes out — Fields, Smith or … a trade? — for the first time in my life, I don’t believe the Jets will Jets all the way and take a tight end here. That’s a win in Jetsland.

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Now let’s take this in a different direction: Saleh is believed to be the first Muslim Arab American head coach in NFL history. And he’ll coach a New York team that plays in New Jersey, the third- and fourth-ranked states with the highest Muslim population in the U.S. That is powerful, especially at a time when white supremacists are openly white supremacing about in broad daylight. The Jets are making a statement here, even if that’s not their primary intent.

Matthew Jaber Stiffler, who leads research at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Mich. (from which Saleh hails), told The New York Times, “To have somebody in a visible position, who is proudly Arab, proudly Muslim — but that also he’s just a football coach too, when it comes down to it — it helps to just normalize the experience of Muslim Americans.”

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As we exit Donald Trump’s America, stampede style, that message couldn’t be better timed. Saleh’s hire couldn’t be better timed. Saleh is ready to be a head coach in the NFL, which is beyond ready for a Muslim-American head coach. Jets fans are ready for their team to be, at a minimum, non-laughingstock relevant.

And I’m ready to watch a damn Jets game again.

Deputy Editor, Deadspin. Author, "One Lucky Fan: From Bleachers to Box Seats, Chasing the Ultimate Sports Dream to Visit All 123 MLB, NBA, NFL & NHL Teams." Earthwalker.