Robert Saleh expands on Jets vision in exclusive interview01/23/2021
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Newly hired Jets coach Robert Saleh discusses his game plan for transforming Gang Green into a winning franchise as he huddles with Post columnist Steve Serby for some Q&A.
Q: Define for me what “extreme violence” means.
A: Football is a violent game, but it doesn’t just mean hitting people — violent in getting off the ball, violent in getting in and out of your breaks, violent in hand usage, violent in technique. There is a violence in everything you do, a suddenness and all that stuff, and so, from a superficial standpoint, people will look at it as being dirty, but it’s still within the rules of the game, and understanding that this game was still built to be a very physical game, but it’s not just about contact. So when we talk about extreme violence, we’re trying to get guys to understand that when they play, they’re doing so in a manner that is overwhelming to their opponent.
Q: Define the traits of the ideal Robert Saleh football player.
A: The unfortunate part of this business is that the name on the back of the jersey always changes, right? You wish we could play forever. But the one thing that remains constant is always the name on the front of the jersey, and being able to recognize exactly what qualities we want those to be, and so, when you look at players from that viewpoint, then the qualities that we look for with regards to the name on the front of the jersey — people who are internally driven and absolutely love the game of football. Usually those guys always overachieve. That would be at the front of our minds.
Q: What won’t you tolerate?
A: Things that don’t protect the team. The No. 1 rule for this organization is: Protect the team. And are you doing everything you can? And that doesn’t just mean taking care of yourself, that means taking care of your teammates. You’re out having a good time, are you making sure that your teammates get home early, or safely? On the football field, not being careless where you’re getting personal fouls that are selfish, because the team is now hurt because you just dropped ’em with a 15-yard penalty, so are you doing things that protect the team, or are you doing things in a manner that don’t protect the team? And those are things that will be at the front of our minds with regards to how we want to operate.
Q: Will you have a lot of rules?
A: No, I’m not a big rule guy. I think these are men, they’re to be treated like men, respect given, respect received.
Q: What is your definition of a winning culture?
A: A winning culture to me is when people are truly invested in one another to the point where we know that we got each other’s back, there’s a tremendous amount of trust, and you get things to a level where the team coaches itself. You’ve heard the saying, “The best coached teams are the teams that coach themselves.” You get to that point by having a tremendous amount of trust from top all the way down.
Q: What is your definition of toughness?
A: To be able to step on the field when you’re a little bit hurt and fight for your brothers is the ultimate form of toughness.
Q: Describe what you want the on-field personality of your team to be.
A: That goes back to that all-gas-no-brake mentality that we keep talking about. The mentality is to play with a tremendous amount of effort, play with a tremendous amount of technique, and then obviously we want to do it in a violent type of way, and so when you look at our team, we are gonna run, we’re gonna hit, we’re gonna execute at a very high level, and those are the things that you’ll be able to see on tape, just pop off the tape.
Q: How do you motivate?
A: I think people in general … they wake up in the morning, especially in this profession, they’re motivated to do their job. We’re motivated to wake up, we’re motivated to come into work, we’re motivated to do things. … I think where things are different is we’re gonna inspire people to do more than what they thought they were capable of. And that inspiration comes in that personal investment and making people understand that we’re all in this together, because there’s nothing stronger than when two people have each other’s back and they help each other grow to the best of their ability.
Q: What’s the best motivational ploy you think you’ve used?
A: (Laugh) There’s many ways to motivate players. You can motivate players with knowledge to help them make plays on Sunday, you can motivate players with stories, you can motivate players with many, many different tools. It just depends on what those players are ready for at that particular moment.
Q: What is your definition of leadership?
A: I believe in servant leadership. The idea of helping everyone you get better. And so, when you speak about servant leadership and you speak about really having a genuine investment and trying to help people get to where they want to get to, that is the ultimate form of leadership. And it’s a form of leadership that can be held at all levels. You don’t have to be the best player on the football team to be a leader, you can be the practice squad guy — because in a way, by practicing your tail off, you’re serving your teammates to help them get better so they’re better prepared for Sunday, and all the way up the ladder. And so having that mindset, that servant leadership mindset to help people around you get better, that’s the ultimate form of leadership in my opinion.
Q: Who are leaders you admire?
A: I’ve had so many — [Seahawks coach] Pete Carroll, obviously, has been such an influence on my life. I know Gus Bradley didn’t exactly have the greatest tenure as the [Jaguars’] head coach, but he’s one of the greatest human beings and best coordinators this league has ever had, and having him in my life has been a godsend. Ken Norton Jr. has had a tremendous impact. I’m sure I’m gonna forget somebody, but there’s been so many people along my path that have helped me along the way.
Q: Aside from all-gas-no-brake, do you have inspirational or motivational sayings that you like?
A: I believe that if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. That goes back to the investment part, that if we’re gonna go anywhere, we’re gonna go together. You can stray and you can go off on your own, but it’s still gonna come back to doing it with people. And finally, when you’re writing the story of your own life, never allow another man to hold the pen. Grab the pen, write your story, let people know who you are. Create your identity. And those are just things that I just think are so important to when you’re building a personality or you’re building a team where everyone has the freedom to express their own individuality within the confines of a team structure. I can come up with a million of ’em, but those are the two biggest ones.
Q: How do you deal with the pressure or stress of the job?
A: Having tremendous amount of love from my family, and understanding when I get home, especially my little ones, they don’t know if we won, lost, they really don’t care, they just know that I walked in the door. To have them in my life is the ultimate balancing act, and it just keeps me with my “why,” and why I continue to do this, and without them, I’m not sure where I’d be.
Q: Do you know Joe Namath?
A: Obviously I know of him. I’m really looking forward to meeting him one day.
Q: What are your thoughts on the fact that this franchise had not won a title since Super Bowl III?
A: You can never hide from your past, and so we embrace the fans’ passion for winning another one, obviously, but through that passion and all of that, there’s gonna be a process that we go through on a day in and day out basis to get ourselves better every single day to build for those championships. Everything we do is gonna be designed to win championships. When it’s gonna happen? I don’t know. I’m very confident that it will happen.
Q: Do you know Giants coach Joe Judge?
A: I know of him. I’ve never had a conversation with him.
Q: Do you plan on calling him to pick his brain about coaching in this market?
A: There’s no doubt. I would absolutely love to have a conversation with Joe. I have a lot of respect for him, especially what he’s been able to do with the Giants in his first season. I would really love to invite that conversation.
Q: Who are coaches outside of football you admire?
A: [Michigan State basketball coach] Tom Izzo. He’s always been one that I’ve taken a liking to. He’s part of Northern Michigan University, where I graduated from. I went to Michigan State [as a defensive assistant], and so he’s always been phenomenal because he always seems to get a little bit more out of his players than others do.
Q: Who are athletes outside of football you admire?
A: Looking at basketball players, they’re usually the most visible in terms of how they operate. God rest his soul, but Kobe Bryant was the epitome of everything … the way he approached his day in and day out, the way he challenged himself to get better, the way he did things, the way he strained to find every little way to get better, and was never too big for anything and still managed to still have a life. So when you look at individuals who are great in this profession, or in any profession that they do, you could appreciate that they worked for it, and they continue to work for it, and he was the greatest example.
Q: What makes 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan?
A: Kyle Shanahan’s got a tenacity to him that I don’t think a lot of people realize. You look at him and people say, “Well he’s a play-caller, and he connects with the quarterback and that’s why he’s a great head coach is because he’s an offensive mind,” and it’s the furthest from the truth. He is way more than an offensive mind. He is an ultimate leader. He unites an entire building, what he goes Monday through Saturday to get the building moving in the same direction is 99 percent of what he does. And then the 1 percent of play calling shows up on Sunday. But everything he goes in between that makes him special. To view him as a play-caller would be doing him a serious disservice.
Q: You were defensive quality control coach for the Seahawks from 2011-13. What makes Pete Carroll, Pete Carroll?
A: Same thing. Pete doesn’t call plays, but he spends Monday through Saturday completely uniting the building, to get them moving in the direction that they need to go with the mindset of getting better every single day and treating every moment like a championship moment, and having that mindset to show up on Sunday and overwhelm people with your effort, your technique, your tenacity, all of it.
Q: When you think of the Legion of Boom, what do you think of?
A: Oh man, I think of championships and great defense (laugh).
Q: And when you think of Richard Sherman, what do you think of?
A: Family. I love Sherm. My time with him through Seattle and San Francisco has been indescribable, and appreciate everything the man stands for.
Q: Who was your boyhood idol?
A: Probably my Pops. He’s just a steadfast man and everything about him, the teachings of him and my mom and what they’ve done for me, obviously it’s priceless.
Q: What drives you?
A: My family. They’re my Why. I wake up every morning, kiss my wife, kiss my [six] kids, every single one of ’em goodbye. They’re the reason why I wake up in the morning to do my absolute best.
Q: Have you been to Ground Zero?
A: I went with my brother [David, who was on the 61st floor of the South Tower on 9/11] when we [Seahawks] went to the Super Bowl, back in ’14 [at MetLife Stadium]. That was his first time that he had been back, and to be able to share that moment with him was special. … I’ve been there a few times.
Q: What was that like for you?
A: Emotional for me to see my brother, who has always been a rock-solid figure in my life … to see him break down is tough. Having your older brother, he’s your Superman when you’re growing up, and so to see him in a very vulnerable state was extremely tough for me.
Q: What is the origin of all-gas-no-brake?
A: Since I was a linebackers coach in Jacksonville my very first year , I was trying to find a way to connect with the players, and I’m sure I probably heard it somewhere, I don’t know where, but I was on the sideline and just started chanting, “All gas,” to the guys, and it just kind of became a mantra in terms of what we want that to represent and how we want what that actually means.
Q: All-gas-no-brake — I hope that doesn’t refer to the way you drive.
A: (Laugh) No, I’m a speed limit guy.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: (Chuckle) My mom, my dad and my wife.
Q: Favorite movie?
Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
A: I grew up a massive Frank Sinatra fan just because my dad buried it in our heads. Believe it or not, we’d throw some Frank Sinatra on in the house and just let it roll. As far as favorite performer, Garth Brooks back in the day, going to his concerts, he was one of the first ones I ever went to, and when I saw it, I was in love with country music.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: It’s a Middle Eastern meal (laugh).
Q: Describe the emotions walking off the Super Bowl field a winner [XLVIII over the Broncos, 43-8] and walking off a loser [LIV against the Chiefs, 31-20].
A: You know what? I think I can speak for every coach when I say that you always remember the ones you’ve lost more than the ones you’ve won. The emotions of walking off the field as a loser is something that I never want to feel again.
Q: Did you get to hold the Lombardi Trophy?
A: I did. It’s priceless. I can’t explain to you the emotion. It’s something that I’m really excited to be able to do again one day.
Q: How hungry are you to win another one?
A: Oh man — hungry. Always. I mean, that’s why we do this, to win championships, and one is never enough, two’s never enough, there’s never enough — it’ll never be enough, because that’s why we do this.
Q: Why will Robert Saleh be successful?
A: That’s a good question. Success will happen when people unite together and have one common goal and march together. If we have success here, it’s because that unification happened. Just like being in this chair today happened because so many people helped me along the way. It’ll be the same thing — it is a group of people that make things happen great, not one any individual. Together is how we’re gonna go this, and if there’s success in this organization, it won’t be because of me, it’ll be because of the collaborative effort that everyone made from the top down.
Q: What tells you that you’re ready for this job?
A: You know, when I was a [graduate assistant], and I was a little intern up at Houston, and Gary Kubiak came through, I just said, “Coach, I don’t know what you have, but I promise if you make me your Q.C. [quality control], I will be the best Q.C. you ever had. I might have a bumble along the way, but I promise I’ll be great.” I feel like I was pretty good. And so when Gus Bradley went to the Jaguars, and he was nervous about making me a first-time linebackers coach, I said, “Gus, I was great as a Q.C. I’ll have some bumps, but I promise, I won’t let you down.” And same as a D-coordinator, and so, I have an extreme amount of confidence in the staff that we’ve built, the players that we’ll have connected and the messaging that we’ll have in that we’re gonna get things right. I’m excited for this challenge. We’ve been able to do it at a Q.C. level, linebacker level, defensive level, and now it’s the opportunity to do it at a team level, and I’m just so confident in the people that we have around us to be able to get that done.
Q: What message would you have for the championship-starved Jets fans?
A: We understand the frustration. We embrace the past. We can’t wait to meet your expectations. Will it take time? I don’t know how much time. But I will promise you that one day this organization will win a championship. And hopefully sooner than later.
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