- Longtime Jets beat writer for New York Daily News
- Syracuse University graduate
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Even though the New York Jets’ playoff hopes were undermined, in large part, by a struggling offense, coach Robert Saleh insisted Monday he won’t let outside noise influence his decision on the future of offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.
Saleh said he still has full confidence in LaFleur even though the Jets have scored only four touchdowns during their current five-game losing streak. The Jets (7-9) were eliminated Sunday with a 23-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, extending their futility streak to eight straight quarters without a touchdown.
Preferring to look at the big picture instead of recent results, Saleh said the Jets are in the second year of “a commitment to go young everywhere — coaches, players, staff, everybody. It’s so important to take a deep breath … and make sure we’re telling ourselves the truth rather than allowing narrative and panic to set in.”
Last season, the Jets had a rookie coach in Saleh, a rookie coordinator in LaFleur and a rookie quarterback in Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick. The plan was to have them grow together, but there hasn’t been much improvement.
Under LaFleur, 36, the Jets were 28th in scoring last season and they’re 27th this year, as they’ve dealt with Wilson’s acute growing pains and injuries to rookie running back Breece Hall and the offensive line.
Saleh is close friends with LaFleur’s older brother, Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur, and has known Mike LaFleur since he was a teenager. When Saleh landed the Jets’ job in 2021, his first significant hire was Mike, also a former 49ers assistant.
“I’ve been in (Mike) LaFleur’s shoes,” said Saleh, recalling how he was on the hot seat as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator after the 2018 season. “It would’ve been very easy for Kyle (Shanahan) to fire me, very easy to say, ‘You know what? We went 4-12, you’re the scapegoat, get the heck out of the building.’
“But to his credit, we sat down … he committed to me, and the rest is history.”
The 49ers won the NFC championship in 2019, elevating Saleh’s profile as a head-coaching candidate. He said it takes discipline to make objective evaluations and “not come away with knee-jerk reactions that would derail what could be a pretty damn good football coach — or a good player, for that matter. That’s where Zach comes into play.”
LaFleur and Wilson, replaced in the lineup by Mike White, have been the lightning rods during the team’s late-season collapse.
With regard to LaFleur, Saleh acknowledged the results haven’t been good enough, but he believes there has been some growth on offense, mainly by individual players. On Sunday, rookie wide receiver Garrett Wilson became the first Jets player since 2015 to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
“There were stretches where we had one of the more prolific offenses in the league for a couple of games in a row, here and there,” center Connor McGovern said. “It’s just a consistency thing. It’s not just on LaFleur, it’s not just on the players. It’s the entire New York Jets not being consistent.”
Commenting on Wilson’s future, which appears uncertain after two benchings, Saleh reiterated there’s no desire to move on from him. While he wouldn’t commit to Wilson as the 2023 starter, he said it’s premature to cut bait after only two seasons. He doesn’t want to repeat past mistakes by the organization, noting there are “so many” former Jets enjoying success.
One of them, Seattle’s Geno Smith, beat them Sunday.
“If there’s a franchise that should recognize, ‘Maybe we should give these young men a little bit of time,’ it’s this organization,” Saleh said.
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