One of the overlooked aspects of Robert Saleh’s decision to bench Zach Wilson in favor of Mike White is how well the Jets coach managed the media.
The controversy, which in the NFL world is considered a crisis, could have gotten uglier if Saleh elected to take a more combative approach, like he did in late October after a 24-9 loss to Baltimore. On that occasion Saleh said he would be “taking receipts on all the people who continually mock and say that we aren’t going to do anything.” At the least, he planted the seeds of an adversarial relationship with the media.
The case of White-for-Wilson could’ve provided a potent fertilizer.
Saleh didn’t let that happen. Mostly because boss scribes and assorted Gasbags agreed the move had to be made, especially after Wilson refused to take any postgame press conference accountability for the Jets dreadful, sleep-inducing Nov. 20 loss to New England. What did rankle these scholars was Saleh insisting that Wilson’s days as a Jets quarterback are not over.
“I know that’s going to be the narrative. I know that’s what everyone is going to shout out,” Saleh told reporters. “… The full intent is to make sure Zach gets back on the football field at some point this season.”
Saleh addressed this the same way whether he was being pressed during his “free” interviews or his paid appearances on ESPN-98.7′s “The Michael Kay Show.” The coach reacted to “well, what happens if Mike-does-this or Zach- does- that” questions without getting feisty. Saleh simply said: “I’m not dealing in hypotheticals” shutting that line of questioning down.
Saleh’s approach was helped by something he couldn’t control. As soon as Wilson refused to hold himself accountable, he became Public Enemy No. 1 in the Valley of the Stupid and other media precincts, even after he apologized to his teammates. Gasbags and other social media pontificators got personal, questioning Wilson’s work ethic while characterizing him as “spoiled.” They even brought up his social life, as if had something to do with his inability to complete a short pass.
The piling on got so petty that a variety of Gasbags even ripped Wilson for not displaying enough sideline emotion as he watched White pick apart the Bears last Sunday. Did they expect Wilson to be thrilled about being benched? Did they expect him to wave pom-poms with The Jets Flight Crew? In that situation only a phony would be overjoyed.
The fact Wilson was overwhelmingly cast as the villain took plenty of heat off Saleh. He didn’t have to answer many questions about revisiting his, and GM Joe Douglas, state of Gaga when they drafted Wilson out of BYU. Did either envision ever getting to this point with Wilson? Still, when answering the questions, Saleh was not evasive.
Most importantly, at least to the Jets organization, he was convincing. That’s huge. Especially to a franchise that lives on the precipice of dysfunction.
WHAT THE FLEX?
The groundbreaking NFL TV deal, which kicks in next Fall, includes ESPN getting “flex” Monday Night Football scheduling in weeks 12-17. The groans as fans scan the final month of 2022 “MNF” games reveal what a major get flexing will be.
So, it’s alarming hearing seasoned media mavens speculate the flex wrinkle for ESPN next year (NBC’s “SNF” will continue getting flex relief) is largely a smokescreen. They contend the NFL won’t be inclined to move a Sunday afternoon contest to a Monday night slot on 13 days’ notice. Perhaps it’ll happen once a season.
The reality is ESPN will have all winter to convince the league that viewership numbers in the final six weeks can be substantially enhanced with flex scheduling. They will no doubt also drop a mention their 35% annual rights fee increase to $2.7 billion is not chopped liver.
So, here’s one scenario NFL TV suits could introduce: When making the schedule, they could earmark three games a week for “MNF” in each of the weeks 12-17. That ensures whichever game is eventually selected for the primetime showcase, the hometown fan base can’t howl about a bait and switch. For since May, when the schedule was released, it was one of the tilts ticketed for “MNF.”
The other two games each week get shuttled back to Sunday afternoon, which simply means fans get a reset. And a more reasonable kickoff time in the chilly months of November and December.
WHO YOU WATCHING?
The NFL schedule makers, like most of the “experts,” underestimated the Jets and Giants.
That’s why, once again, the two teams will be going head-to-head Sunday in the 1 p.m. window on CBS (Jets-Vikings) and Fox (Commanders-Giants). The same 1 p.m. conflict is in play next Sunday when the Jets play Buffalo and the Giants take on Philly.
CBS will go with Ian (The Bird) Eagle/Charles Davis in Minnesota on Sunday while Fox drops Kenny Albert/Jonathan Vilma into the Meadowlands broadcast booth.
ESPN RADIO MOVES
Will the recent “changes” made to ESPN-98.7′s lineup provide a ratings boost?
Or are the moves more like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic?
After all, no personnel changes were made. The same cast of Bloviators was left intact at a time when the station, still finding itself breathing WFAN’s exhaust fumes, could’ve used a fresh new talkie or a new team to rattle the cage of complacency that has set in at 98.7.
Anyway, the big move is expanding the Rick DiPietro/David Rothenberg show to four hours (6-10 a.m.). The two voices had been working 5-8 a.m., aka The Witness Protection Program, aka the Toothpick Section of your grocery store.
Nonetheless, Rothenberg/DiPietro were able to produce consistency and highly listenable shows. Plus, they are actually funny.
AROUND THE DIAL
Slick Monday move by FANdroids airing Robert Saleh’s press conference live during “The Carton/Roberts Show.” By doing so, C/R “scooped” the Jets coach’s paid appearance on “The Michael Kay Show,” which took place a few minutes after Saleh’s presser. Adding to the situational irony of it all, is the fact FAN is the Giants radio Flagship. … Lucky for Stephen A. Smith that he doesn’t punch a clock. SAS showed up nearly a half-hour late for ESPN’s “First Take” Tuesday morning. He claimed his car was stuck in West Side Highway traffic. “FT” anchor Molly Qerim warned SAS: “You might not want to talk about anybody else’s clock-management issues.”… On his WABC radio soiree, Bill O’Reilly (yes, that Bill O’Reilly) stuck his beak into the Zach Wilson story, throwing his support behind the Jets beleaguered QB. BO’R specifically mentioned New York’s “two sports [radio] stations” and claimed “the [sports] media is taking pleasure” in Wilson’s demise. O’Reilly said when it comes to Wilson, the sports media is engaging in “sadism.” Ouch! That hurts!
* * *
DUDE OF THE WEEK: JIM HARBAUGH
For having his team more than ready to play during their thrashing of Ohio State on the road. The Michigan coach has a lightning-rod personality, but he has his team on the verge of back-to-back CFB berths. He is the “The Comeback Kid” alright.
DWEEB OF THE WEEK: WASHINGTON COMMANDERS
For another tasteless mistake. What was management thinking when it presented a mannequin with wire arms as a “statue” of the late Sean Taylor? As one critic pointed out, the tribute looked more like a Nike store display.
What Billy Eppler said: “I’d like to keep what available resources we have as close to the vest as possible.”
What Billy Eppler meant to say: “It’s not my money. It’s Steve Cohen’s dough.”