The New York Jets made history this week. Robert Saleh was hired to be the Jets' new head coach on Thursday night, and according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations via NBC News, he is the first Muslim head coach in NFL history. Saleh also becomes the third Arab-American NFL head coach, with the other two being Abe Gibran and Rich Kotite.
"We welcome this development as another sign of the increasing inclusion and recognition of American Muslims in our diverse society," Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said in a statement. Saleh, 41, is a Michigan native, and his family traces its roots to Lebanon. Gibran was the head coach of the Chicago Bears for three seasons (1972-1974), while Kotite was in charge of the Philadelphia Eagles (1991-94) and the Jets (1995-96). After spending four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers as the team's defensive coordinator, Saleh comes to the Jets.
Saleh will become the 20th head coach in Jets history. In 2020, Saleh led the 49ers' defense to a top-10 ranking in total yards (fifth), rush yards (seventh) and pass yards (fourth). In 2019, the 49ers finished second overall in the league in total defense, averaging 281.8 yards allowed per game, the team's best total since 1997. The 49ers' defense in 2019 was a big reason the team reached the Super Bowl, which led to Saleh winning The Sporting News Coordinator of the Year award. Saleh also spent time with the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars before joining the 49ers.
The Jets finished the 2020 season with a 2-14 record and missed the playoffs for the 10th consecutive year. As the season came to an end, the Jets fired Adam Gase as their head coach, who was with the team for only two seasons.
"While my sincere intentions are to have stability in our organization -- especially in our leadership positions - it is clear the best decision for the Jets is to move in a different direction," Jets CEO Christopher Johnson said in a statement. "We knew there was a lot of work that needed to be done when Adam joined us in 2019. Our strong finish last year was encouraging, but unfortunately, we did not sustain that positive momentum or see the progress we all expected this season."