January is a cold and cruel month, especially for the many Jets fans who have had to watch their team lose game after game and stagger to a depressing 2-14 record, 2nd worst in the NFL. However, when winter nears its end and a new football season begins, the New York Jets will have one of the most energetic head coaches on the sidelines. Robert Saleh, former 49ers defensive coordinator, was recently hired and became the first Muslim head coach in the NFL.
Saleh was born in Dearborn, Michigan, home to one of America’s largest Arab American communities. After four years as a tight end on the University of Northern Michigan Wildcats, he graduated with a degree in finance and was about to begin a job at Comerica Bank. However, in 2001, when his brother escaped from the World Trade Center on September 11th, Saleh rethought about his decision to leave football and decided to return to the game as a coach. After bouncing around through college programs, he finally landed an internship for the Houston Texans in 2005. Eventually, Saleh was promoted to defensive quality control and was hired by the Seattle Seahawks in 2011.
The Seahawks, a mediocre team back then, saw an instant change in play after the organization drafted core players like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor, a defensive group that would eventually be known as “The Legion of Boom”. During this time, Saleh helped to coach these players to their max potential, forming one of the strongest defenses of all time. They were hard hitting, fast, and intelligent, leading the league in scoring defense for four years. After a 13-3 record in the 2013 regular season, the Legion of Boom clamped the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII, and Saleh obtained his first Super Bowl ring.
In 2017, Saleh became the defense coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. At the time, the Niners had the worst defense statistically in the NFL. Yet with passionate, motivational coaching from the sideline, Robert Saleh became a star in the 49ers organization. Always the first one to dap up a player after a turnover, Saleh’s energy as a defensive coordinator pushed his unit to be better. His motto, “All Gas No Brake”, was embedded into every player. Steadily, the 49ers defense became one of the best in the league. In 2019, Saleh returned to the Super Bowl; however, the 49ers lost to the Chiefs in a tight game.
From intern to defensive assistant to coordinator, Saleh’s journey has finally reached the highest possible coaching opportunity in the football world – head coach of his own NFL team. Being the first Muslim head coach in NFL history, Robert Saleh is an inspiration to those in his community and around the world. In a country where anti-Muslim sentiment is still present, Saleh broke racial and cultural boundaries to reach where he is today. However, the challenge to make the New York Jets into a winning team will prove difficult. After all, the team hasn’t been to the Super Bowl since 1969. If there’s anyone in the league who can turnaround this team, it’s Robert Saleh.
Author: Devin Wu
DeclarASIAN Blog Contributor