The New York Jets hired San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to be their new head coach, making him the first Muslim to run an NFL sideline, the team announced Thursday night.
“We’ve reached an agreement in principle with Robert Saleh to become our head coach,” the Jets said in a statement.
Saleh has spent the past four years in Santa Clara, California, transforming the 49ers defense from a one-time laughingstock to one of footballs most elite units.
Hell take over a team in that won just two of 16 games this past season and hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2010-11 campaign. The Jets have just one Super Bowl title in franchise history, the famed Joe Namath guarantee of Jan. 12, 1969.
Before the 41-year-old native of Dearborn, Michigan, was hired by the Jets, no Muslim had ever been an NFL head coach, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights advocacy group.
Saleh, whose family traces its roots to Lebanon, will be third Arab American NFL head coach, following in the footsteps of Abe Gibran and Rich Kotite, who are also both of Lebanese descent, according to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Gibran was head coach of the Chicago Bears for three seasons between 1972 and 1974. Kotite ran the Philadelphia Eagles for four seasons (1991-94) and Jets for two campaigns (1995-96).
Saleh brings considerable credentials to his new job job in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Before taking over the 49ers defense in 2017, San Francisco ranked dead last in total yards surrendered.
The 49ers were 24th and 13th in total defense in Saleh’s first two years in charge, before that crew ranked second and fifth in the entire league these past two seasons.
This past season’s accomplishments was particularly impressive in light of the staggering number of injuries that prevented many of Saleh’s best players from taking the field.