FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The New York Jets, coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history, have reached an agreement in principle with San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to be their next head coach, the team announced Thursday night.
The agreement is for five years, leagues sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Saleh, 41, who interviewed virtually last Friday, quickly established himself as the Jets’ front-runner. On Tuesday, he flew to New Jersey for a second interview. On Thursday, the Jets concluded a second interview with Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. At that point, the Jets held internal discussions and decided to make an offer to Saleh, a source said.
There was plenty of competition for Saleh, who received interview requests from six of the seven teams in the NFL head-coaching market.
Saleh is expected to take 49ers passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur — the brother of Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur — with him as his offensive coordinator, sources told Schefter.
Saleh, who is Lebanese-American, will join Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ron Rivera of the Washington Football Team as active minority head coaches in the league. The 49ers will receive two third-round compensatory draft picks as part of the NFL’s new hiring initiatives to incentivize an expansion of the candidate pool.
Saleh replaces Adam Gase, who went 9-23 and was fired immediately after the 2020 season.
Saleh is regarded as an upbeat, energetic coach. The Jets coveted those traits after two difficult seasons under Gase, whose personality chafed some players. Ownership sought to find a “CEO” coach, someone who could galvanize the organization and build a winning culture.
General manager Joe Douglas, who led the Jets’ search, has no prior experience working with Saleh. At the start of the process, Douglas said he was seeking a “great partner” with strong leadership and communication skills.
Saleh spent four seasons as the 49ers’ coordinator, where he inherited the 32nd-ranked defense (yards allowed) and helped transform it into a top-5 unit the past two seasons. Despite a spate of injuries, the Saleh-led defense finished fifth in yards and 17th in scoring in 2020.
Before San Francisco, Saleh served as a defensive assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks and Houston Texans. In scheme and personality, he’s closely aligned with Seattle coach Pete Carroll.
Nine known candidates interviewed for the job, eight of whom are current NFL assistants. The outlier was former Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, currently the co-defensive coordinator at Arizona State.
Saleh inherits a 2-14 team that finished 32nd and 24th in total offense and defense, respectively. The Jets own the league’s longest playoff drought (10 years), and they haven’t posted a winning season since 2015.
He faces a huge decision at quarterback, as the Jets must decide whether to stick with Sam Darnold — the NFL’s lowest-rated passer — or draft his replacement. Douglas has the final say, but he said the coach will have significant input.
Saleh will have resources with which to improve. The Jets have two first-round picks in 2021 (second and 23 overall) and they have $71 million in salary-cap space, according to OvertheCap. They also own two first-round picks in 2022.
The roster needs upgrading at almost every position. The Jets don’t have a single player with Pro Bowl experience, and they have only two players under contract who are considered building blocks — defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and left tackle Mekhi Becton.
Saleh grew up in Dearborn, Michigan, and attended Northern Michigan University, where he graduated in 2002 with a degree in finance.