Could Robert Saleh Hire Cement AFC East As NFL’s Best-Coached Division?

Saleh joins two Coach of the Year candidates ... and Bill Belichick


Robert Saleh on Tuesday officially became the next head coach of the New York Jets.

By many accounts, Saleh is a home-run hire and one the Jets sorely needed. The 41-year-old Saleh, who previously served as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator, will take over for Adam Gase. Gase, you may recall, was fired after two very forgettable years in New York, capped off as the Jets finished 2-14 this season.

There’s a bigger picture to Saleh’s hiring, though.

Saleh will join Bill Belichick, Sean McDermott, Brian Flores and Saleh as the AFC East’s four horsemen. That could be pretty damn good. In fact, it could be the best group of coaches in any division.

Belichick, the New England Patriots head honcho, doesn’t need much introduction. He has won six Super Bowls during the two decades he has been in New England and is considered the greatest coach of all time. The latest campaign wasn’t a good one for Belichick and the Patriots, but make no mistake, he’s still the best in the game.

McDermott, and later Flores, added depth to the division’s coaching tree. But their level of success, an unknown at the time of their respective hirings, probably have exceeded expectations.

McDermott, in his fourth season with the Bills, has Buffalo competing for an AFC championship and one win away from the Super Bowl. It followed a 13-3 season in which the team finally unseated New England as division champion.

McDermott is 38-26 in the regular season, finishing above .500 in three of the four campaigns. He added more personal accolades these last two weeks with his first-career playoff win against the Indianapolis Colts and his second against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday. He’s now .500 in the postseason, too.

The 39-year-old Flores, who took over the reins of the Miami Dolphins entering the 2019 season, has been as impressive as any during Miami’s last two campaigns.

Flores turned one of the league’s bottom-of-the-barrel rosters in 2019 into a team that finished 11-5 and came up just shy of the postseason in 2020. The Dolphins’ most recent season was only the second time they finished above .500 since 2009. It was the organization’s best record since 2008.

Those two — McDermott and Flores — could (and should) finish in that order for the 2020 Coach of the Year.

Saleh, of course, is more unknown at this point.

He has coached his way up the ranks with his NFL career starting in 2005. He’s best known, however, as the most recent defensive coordinator in San Francisco. He held that position each of the last four seasons.

Predicting how Saleh will do in New York is not an exact science, obviously. But he’s earned the respect of many with veteran cornerback Richard Sherman calling him a “leader of men.” It’s more than fair to say that he will be better than Gase, and who knows, maybe he can even change the culture like both McDermott and Flores have done recently.

Anyway, here’s the competition from divisions around the league:

AFC North: Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, Ravens’ John Harbaugh, Browns’ Kevin Stefanski, Bengals’ Zac Taylor
AFC South: Titans’ Mike Vrabel, Colts’ Frank Reich, Jaguars’ Urban Meyers*, Texans (?)
AFC West: Chiefs’ Andy Reid, Raiders’ Jon Gruden, Broncos’ Vic Fangio, Chargers’ Brandon Stanley*

NFC East: Cowboys’ Mike McCarty, Washington’s Ron Rivera, Giants’ Joe Judge, Eagles’ (?)
NFC North: Packers’ Matt LaFleur, Bears’ Matt Nagy, Vikings’ Mike Zimmer, Lions’ (?)
NFC South: Buccaneers’ Bruce Arians, Saints’ Sean Payton, Panthers’ Matt Rhule, Falcons’ Arthur Smith*
NFC West: Seahawks’ Pete Carroll, Rams’ Sean McVay, Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury, 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan

*first-year coaches, (?) vacant positions

This foursome certainly could make the AFC East a lot more interesting than it used to be.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images

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