The Jets have reached an agreement for Robert Saleh, the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, to become their next head coach, the team announced Thursday, and — if all goes well — to lead the team out of a stupor that has left it without a postseason appearance and as the butt of a running joke for the past decade.
Saleh, 41, who is of Lebanese descent, is believed to be the first Muslim Arab American head coach of an N.F.L. team.
With him and his 16 years of N.F.L. coaching experience at the helm, the Jets hope to end a 10-year postseason drought, most recently extended by Adam Gase, whom they let go after the team had a dismal two-win season and the worst offense in the league in 2020.
Along with Saleh, an offensive coordinator will be a crucial hire to improve production, regardless of whether the coaches will be expected to reinvent Sam Darnold or to work with another quarterback selected in the draft.
Saleh’s performance in his four seasons with the 49ers caught the attention of other teams over the past two years. After the 2019 season, when the Cleveland Browns interviewed — but ended up not choosing — Saleh to fill their head coaching vacancy, San Francisco Coach Kyle Shanahan said: “Whether it’s this year, whether it’s next year, whatever, Saleh is too good and too unique. It’s a matter of time before he’s a head coach.”
In the 2019 season, Saleh became the first Arab American to serve as a coordinator for a Super Bowl team. After losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, the 49ers this season ranked fourth in passing yards allowed per game, fifth in yards allowed per game and seventh in rushing yards allowed per game, despite missing the playoffs with a 6-10 record.
Several key 49ers — Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Richard Sherman, Dee Ford, among others — missed long stretches because of injury, and coronavirus restrictions forced the team to practice and play in Arizona for the last few weeks.