On September 11, 2001, David Saleh was working at Morgan Stanley on the 61st floor of the South Tower at the World Trade Center. When he heard an explosion—that was the hijacked airliner crash into the North Tower—he started to make his way down the stairs.
Saleh continued heading down despite an announcement that it was an isolated incident and everyone should return to their desk. As Saleh got more than halfway down, a second hijacked plane crashed into the South Tower. As he got closer to the bottom, he passed firefighters heading up the stairs.
Saleh’s brother, Robert, and his parents were in Michigan, watching the tragedy unfold on television. They had no idea if David was still alive when the towers collapsed. He was able to find a store to call his family and let them know he was alive.
Why Robert Saleh’s Career Path Changed After the 9/11 Attacks
Robert Saleh, who played tight end at Northern Michigan, was working at a Michigan bank in 2001. After September 11th, he thought about his career and where he wanted his life to go.
Robert called David the day after watching the New England Patriots defeat the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI the following February. An emotional Robert told his brother that he wanted to follow his dream and work to become a football coach.
His first step to following his coaching dream was at Michigan State as an offensive assistant in 2002. He became a defensive assistant the following year before coaching a season at Central Michigan in 2004, and he moved to the NFL after spending the 2005 season at Georgia.
Robert Saleh’s NFL Coaching Career
Robert Saleh started his NFL coaching career as an intern with the Houston Texans. He was promoted to defensive assistant for the 2006 season and became the linebackers coach in 2009.
Saleh joined Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks staff as a defensive quality control coach in 2011. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl during the 2013 season- a game played at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, less than 20 miles west of where the Twin Towers stood. At the time, he told the NFL Network it was “a little surreal” to coach a Super Bowl in the New York area.
After three seasons as the Jacksonville Jaguars linebackers coach, Saleh moved on to be the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator. In his last two seasons in the role, the 49ers led the league in passing defense. San Francisco lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.
Why Becoming the Head Coach of the New York Jets Was Significant for Robert Saleh
In January 2021, the New York Jets named Robert Saleh as head coach, its 20th in franchise history. He became the first Muslim head coach in NFL history. His first game was played the day after the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
When he was named the Jets head coach, Saleh said, “Going through my brother’s experience and the tragedy that he experienced, being able to self-reflect on what I was doing at that moment, and realizing that I had a passion for football, really triggered this whole thing.”
“He is a collaborative leader,” Vice Chairman Christopher W. Johnson said in a statement after Saleh’s hiring. “I know he will develop the players on our roster, hold them accountable, and put them in a position to succeed. Most importantly, I believe they will connect with him.”
Despite a 4-13 record in his first season, there is a lot of hope and expectation around Saleh’s team this season due to the foundation he has built.
Since 2021, Saleh’s group has seen a league-high 9,808 snaps by rookies, including 117 starts, the third-most in the NFL over that span. In his first season with the Jets (2021), Saleh coached the League’s youngest roster with an opening day age of 25.13.
They became only the second team since the merger led by rookies in passing yards, rushing yards, and receiving yards that season. During the 2023 offseason, the Jets added quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a core of young players on both sides of the ball, including wide receiver Garrett Wilson and cornerback Sauce Gardner.