FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — After a lost decade that included seven losing seasons, five general manager and head coach tandems, five starting quarterbacks and zero playoff appearances — the longest active drought in the NFL — the New York Jets are starting over yet again, except this time there’s a fresh vibe at One Jets Drive.
So what’s new?
They have a new coaching staff with offensive and defensive systems that have been used by recent Super Bowl teams, instilling confidence in the players. Led by coach Robert Saleh, the staff is youthful and energetic. They also have made changes on an organizational level — some of them subtle — which will change the way the Jets do business.
Hey, why not? Business hasn’t been good since January 2011, when they reached the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year.
“We have a system that’s shown to work,” Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley said last week. “Our job as players is to come in every day and make sure we buy into the system, that we buy into the new way of the Jets — all gas, no brake — and we bring it to the field when it’s ready.”
That’s Saleh’s mantra — All gas, no brake — and it appears throughout the team facility. Every coach has a motto. Rex Ryan had, “Play like a Jet.” Todd Bowles had, “One team, one goal.” Adam Gase had … well, he didn’t believe in catchphrases. Frankly, they’re meaningless unless the team can turn the words into a culture. Ryan came the closest, but his Rex-isms fizzled after a couple of promising seasons.
The early returns on Saleh are encouraging, as the Jets have averaged about 80 players at each voluntary practice. While some teams dialed back their offseason activities, acquiescing to the concerns of players, the Jets are proceeding with their schedule after a “good collaboration on both sides,” Saleh said. That says a lot about him and the support from the locker room.
“First day here, he brought the energy,” Mosley said. “That’s what you want from a head coach.”
It’s a different player experience, starting with the player-friendly Saleh, the first-round draft pick in quarterback Zach Wilson, and everything from a new-look weight room to a new approach to nutrition.
The Jets, coming off a 2-14 nightmare, tweaked parts of their infrastructure in an attempt to fix old problems and prevent new ones from popping up. Here’s a closer look at what’s new:
An athletic care and sports performance department. After getting crushed by injuries the past two seasons, general manager Joe Douglas decided to shake things up.
The department, which consolidates the areas of athletic training, strength and conditioning, nutrition and injury rehab, is headed by Dr. Brad DeWeese, the director of high performance. DeWeese, whose background includes training Olympic athletes, is emphasizing speed and power. They made four other hires, including strength and conditioning coach Mike Nicolini, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers.
The Jets dove into the area of sports science, creating a custom menu for each player that covers weight training, recovery and a meal plan. With regard to injuries, there were a few well-documented cases in recent years in which players such as Muhammad Wilkerson, Kelechi Osemele and Quincy Enunwa complained publicly about their care. The hope is having everything under one umbrella will streamline the communication and eliminate snafus.
“We feel like, at least from a physical standpoint, when they walk into this building, there’s 100% attention on each individual,” Saleh said.
In 2019, the Jets had a league-high 28 players on injured reserve, per Spotrac. It was more of the same in 2020 — 36 cases on injured reserve, tied for fifth.
A chief of staff. Yes, that’s an actual title in the team directory and it belongs to Steve Scarnecchia, who was hired as Saleh’s right-hand man.
Scarnecchia, the son of former New England Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, will lessen the load for Saleh by handling administrative jobs such as meeting and practice schedules. He could be an invaluable resource for Saleh, a first-time head coach on any level. Scarnecchia held a similar position the past six years with the Atlanta Falcons.
The Jets also hired game-management specialist Matt Burke, an Ivy League-educated former NFL assistant who becomes their version of Ernie Adams. Ernie Adams? He was the longtime confidant and football savant under Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who relied on Adams during games.
This isn’t a new role for the Jets — Matt Sheldon had the job under Gase — but they’re treating it differently. Gase never wanted to publicize Sheldon; Saleh was transparent, explaining the different ways in which Burke can help.
Burke, who works closely with the analytics department, meets with Saleh to discuss possible in-game situations. Saleh tells him what he’d do; Burke responds by sharing the “book” choice, based on recent data. This allows them to formulate a plan.
During the season, Burke will meet with the coaching staff to analyze specific scenarios, allowing the coaches to work them into the practice script. On game day, Burke will be in the booth, communicating with Saleh as game- and clock-management issues develop.
“He’s a tremendous asset,” Saleh said of Burke, 45, who had a similar job with the Tennessee Titans several years ago.
Two new turf fields at the facility. Cosmetic changes count, too.
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) June 2, 2021
New power structure. Saleh’s hiring in January coincided with the decision to revert to the traditional organizational setup, with the coach reporting to the GM, who reports to ownership.
The Jets got away from that structure in 2015, when owner Woody Johnson tried to appease all parties during the clumsy hiring of GM Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles, virtual strangers. He put them on the same level of the food chain, having them report directly to him. And that’s the way it stayed for the next six, turmoil-filled seasons, through more hirings, firings and Johnson’s temporary departure.
While Douglas and Saleh downplayed the structure, saying they will collaborate regardless of boundaries, it eliminates gray area and sends a symbolic message Douglas is in charge.
A new old owner. After three years as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, Johnson is back as the Jets’ chairman. He didn’t miss any high points during his time across the pond. In four seasons with younger brother Christopher Johnson running the team, the Jets went 18-46, tied with the New York Giants for the league’s worst record.
Woody Johnson isn’t new to the New York sports landscape — he purchased the team in 2000 — but he’s new to the players. Safety Marcus Maye, drafted in 2017, is the only holdover from Woody 1.0, which is remarkable in itself. Since returning in January, Johnson has been visible at the facility, notably during the draft. He has been tweeting up a storm, but has yet to speak with the media.
Johnson left behind a mess in 2017, a roster gutted to the point where the Jets were accused of tanking. Four years later, they’re still rebuilding, but this time feels different.