In some ways, being a head coach is like being a late-night host. Day and day out, for an entire season, this person has to perform. There may be only 17 games in an NFL season, but every single day a head coach is forced to perform for the media, the players, and bosses. So many speeches, PowerPoint presentations, press conferences, and unlike Jimmy Fallon, head coaches don’t have a team of writers. No human being, Robert Saleh or otherwise, can be original multiple times a day for an entire season. Sometimes the New York Jets will get a poor Bill Parcells impersonation, but during the Hard Knocks finale Saleh gave his team a winner from the auditorium podium.
I’m sure that he is not the first coach to use Mt. Everest as a metaphor for a football season. Scaling the largest mountain in the world is the type of daunting and dangerous task that coaches love to compare to football. However, I must admit, the way that he constructed the metaphor made me lean forward and say in my head, “not bad.” I wasn’t ready to run through a wall like the first time that I heard Al Pacino give the “Inches” speech, but that was 1999. I wouldn’t run today if I heard an ice cream truck tune and the vehicle passed me with an “Air Jordans at retail price” sign.
Saleh’s speech was more words to ruminate on as his Jets embark upon a season with their largest expectations possibly in franchise history. He discussed how it takes a 45-mile journey to even get to base camp at Mt. Everest. According to Saleh, the Jets are currently at base camp for the season. Now they have to deal with all of the treacherous conditions that come with scaling the mountain.
He then shifted his speech to criticisms that they have received, referring to negative commentary as crows hovering over their heads — Colin Cowherd’s was name in the center of that PowerPoint slide. Saleh then deviated slightly from the metaphor, and in the process delivered his best line of the Hard Knocks’ season.
“One of my biggest pet peeves as a coach is when you’re on a team that’s not doing very well, and the opposing coach, whose team is doing well, walks up to you at the 50-yard-line and says ‘man, you guys play hard,’” Saleh said to the team. “F*** you! I don’t want to play f******* hard. I want to f*** you up.”
Dammit, he’s right. There is nothing worse than being pitied. When I was in high school, Pittsburgh Steelers legend Rocky Bleier told the football team the story of almost losing his leg after he got shot and a grenade blew up next to it during the Vietnam War. He would eventually return to play NFL football and score a touchdown in the Super Bowl. I broke my thumb the week prior. When I shook his hand he looked at the splint and said, “Whew, that’s tough.” I would have rather he insulted me in 2004 football language.
Many people have mocked the Jets for being terrible over the years, but I am sure the jokes did not sting Saleh during his first year as head coach — the Jets went 4-13 — as much as those forced compliments from other coaches. I can imagine his nostrils flaring after Bill Belichick complimented his team’s effort.
Saleh has spent most of the 2023 season of Hard Knocks cheesing about Aaron Rodgers, giving speeches that either don’t make sense or just flat-out stink, and largely coming off more like he is performing a role as a head coach instead of actually being one.
That speech was the first time he appeared real. That moment showed a glimpse inside a guy who fought through the coaching ranks to become the first Muslim head coach in NFL history. It was nice to see.
All speeches will not be winners. Saleh is a professional, so that means working on days when he doesn’t have his best material. Most late-night monologues are not worthy of an Emmy, but five still have to be delivered every week — once the strike is over of course.
His personality on camera felt forced for most of this season, but some real fell out of him during the Hard Knocks season finale. Maybe what he has is exactly what the Jets need to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since the merger.
Original source here
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