Robert Saleh vs. Rex Ryan: How one phone call ended feud between Jets' former, current coaches
New York Jets coach Robert Saleh has an unexpected new fan: the team’s former coach, Rex Ryan.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Last week, Ryan and Saleh were exchanging verbal haymakers on the radio: Ryan, now an analyst for ESPN, criticized Saleh’s coaching and leadership and said he was offended that anyone would compare him to the current Jets' defensive-minded coach. Saleh fired back by saying he’d never had a conversation with Ryan and suggested: “if it’s that personal for him, he knows where to find me.”
So what changed? Ryan explained over the weekend on ESPN.
“Robert is right, I know where to find him,” Ryan said on the network’s pregame show. “I’m glad he doesn’t know where to find me because that dude is jacked up! In all seriousness, we ended up talking later in the week and I’ve got to tell you something: I was blown away by the guy.
“I reached out, talked to him and I was blown away. I thought he was super smart and just he’s got a direction for this football team. But I’m telling you, Jets fans: the more I talked to him the more impressed I was with Robert Saleh. Like, I became a fan of his.”
Saleh was asked about Ryan’s comments on Monday, a day after the Jets fell to the Dolphins in a frustrating 24-17 loss. And it was clear that after having a conversation with the former Jets coach, Saleh came away with good feelings about Ryan as well.
“Like I said, that was the first time I ever had a one-on-one conversation with Rex,” Saleh said. “I’ll keep the conversation between he and I private. But I speak for the people in this organization: no one’s ever said one bad word about Rex in this entire organization. They speak glowingly of him. And just to be able to have the conversation, I can see why they speak glowingly of him.
“He actually has a really good heart, and it was just good to have that conversation. I’ve always been a fan of him and his defense from afar. So, like I said, it was already behind me from the beginning, but to have that conversation, is kudos to him. He’s shown his character.”
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Ryan didn’t go too deep into the specifics of their conversation either, but it appears that Saleh sold him on the Jets’ latest rebuilding plan. Saleh has said repeatedly this season that he’s not discouraged by some of the ugly losses and horrible performances because he thinks the young players on this team — the Jets have more rookie snaps than any team in the league — are growing and learning and will benefit from it in the future.
That has been a hard sell to the Jets fan base, who are watching a team that is on the verge of missing the playoffs for the 11th straight season — matching the franchise record for futility set from 1970-80. The Jets haven’t been to the playoffs since 2010, when Ryan led them to the AFC Championship game.
But after talking to Saleh, Ryan clearly believes that he’s the right man to lead them there.
“Taking my call and all that speaks volumes about him,” Ryan said of Saleh. “But it was way more about — we put that stuff behind us — but it’s about future of this team and I’m just telling you something: this guy’s got a great plan and I think they got it right. I think they got the head coach right, that he’s the right guy for the job, we just got to be patient. I believe the quarterback they got right. And that’s what you’ve got to have: you’ve got to have the head coach and you’ve got to have the quarterback.”
Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, struggled in his first five-plus games before suffering a knee injury in last month’s road loss to the Patriots that has caused him to miss the last four games. How fans feel about Saleh and the Jets’ future will hinge in large part on how the rookie plays when he gets back on the field for the final games of the season.
But Ryan has faith after talking with Saleh.
“Yeah, there’s some bumpy roads right now, there’s no question,” Ryan said, alluding to the Jets’ rollercoaster first 10 games of the season. “But I truly believe that it’s going to be smooth sailing.”