His Dearborn, MI, Roots, Connections with Pete Carroll & Kyle Shanahan, His Chess Prowess Randy Lange
Who is Robert Saleh, the Jets' 20th head coach and 18th named in the offseason to take over the team for the start of a new campaign? Here are a half-dozen notes, quotes and anecdotes on things we didn't know about Saleh before he was hired to take over the Green & White.
Remember the arcade game Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! ? The game came up in an SI.com profile of Saleh in 2017, when Saleh described the bald, bulging-eyed Turkish boxer Bald Bull as bearing a resemblance to his father, Sam. His sons, Robert and David, have successfully continued that look.
But Robert Saleh is not Turkish. He's Muslim of Lebanese descent. Sam was born in Michigan after civil war in Lebanon forced his family to flee to this country in the late 1940s. His mother was born in Highland Park, MI. Sam was a standout linebacker and noseguard at Fordson HS in Dearborn, MI, in the Sixties. As a senior he sustained a knee injury that required reconstructive surgery, but he still received a scholarship to Eastern Michigan, played there for four years, then went to Chicago Bears training camp, where a major knee injury ended his foray into the pros.
From Football to Finances ... to Football
Robert Saleh also starred at Fordson HS, then played at Division II Northern Michigan. After college, he turned to the financial sector in becoming a credit analyst and made good money for a twentysomething in his community. But Saleh did not like the job. And on Sept. 11, 2001, his life began to shift from a focus on finances to a pursuit of a football career.
David Saleh, a new financial adviser trainee at Morgan Stanley's 2 World Trade Center offices, barely escaped the building during the terrorist attacks. Robert, shaken from his bro's close call, began having doubts about his early career path. Those doubts crystallized during the next Super Bowl when the Patriots won their first Lombardi TrophyTrophies with their win over the Rams.
"I can't stand this. I have to be on the football field," Robert told David emotionally. As a player? No, he said. "I'd rather coach."
We've heard no anecdotes about Saleh's video game expertise, but we do know that as a grad assistant, coaching intern and quality control coach, he had to become familiar with making coffee and copies - and, in the early and mid-2000s, learning to merge football and computers.
Either from that emphasis in his early coaching career or because he was immersed in the digitally conversant generation, Saleh taught himself Vizio, the program that moved out Playmaker Pro as the playbook resource standard for NFL and college coaches.
"Even though I didn't know much, I made it a point to figure it out," Saleh recalled. "That skillset helped me create a reputation of being very detailed and efficient."
Coach Pete's Influence
One of the influences in Saleh's coaching outlook is Pete Carroll. The former Jets head coach in 1994 has been Seattle's skipper for more than a decade. In 2011 Pete brought in Saleh from Houston to be his defensive quality control coach. Saleh remained for three seasons and said he learned a great deal from Carroll.
"The biggest influence I took from Coach Carroll is from a philosophy standpoint," he said in an Associated Press story. "Understanding who you are as a person, what's important to you as a person, and how to apply it to the message you're trying to deliver. Understanding that everybody has a style and that every style is the right style, provided you apply it the right way.
"Speaking to people, handling people is where I've had my greatest growth from Coach Carroll."
When Saleh became the 49ers' defensive coordinator in 2017, he related a story about how he and David, 4 years older, used to engage in epic chess battles. David dominated early, but sometime in their teens, Saleh caught up to and then passed his brother. Robert has had no formal training and has taken no classes, yet his chess rating at that time had risen to 1950, just below the 2000 rating floor for an expert.
In Matt Barrows' column in the Sacramento Bee at the time, Kailee Wong, the former Texans LB, described Saleh's chess game: "He was very organized, very strategic. He would just pressure, he would always put pressure on you. It was constant pressure. You didn't know exactly what he was trying to do. He'd just always be making small, strategic moves to advance his cause."
And Saleh revealed the attraction of the game for him: "It's training your mind to see farther and farther. It's a game that you can actually improve in, not because you trick people but because you can see farther than they do."
Shanahan Says So Long
San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan, who first crossed paths with Saleh when both were on the Houston Texans staff in 2006-08 and ultimately hired him to be his D-coordinator with the 49ers in 2017, said before this year's coaching feeding frenzy began that he expected he wouldn't be Saleh's boss for much longer.
"I don't know what's wrong with people if they don't hire him," Shanahan said. "He's as good as you can get, knows more about football, all three phases, and he's going to hire the best staff, he knows about players, he knows what they're talking about, who doesn't know what they're talking about. He also knows how to deal with people. I hope everyone's not very smart and doesn't hire him so I can keep him, but I'm expecting not to have him."