After hearing Sanjay Lal's interview on SNY & from what I've read on him I am throughly impressed. He's well spoken, well educated & traveled, honest, a hard worker and a self made man in the NFL.
How new NY Jets coach Sanjay Lal's calming influence was perfect fit for fractured receiver crew
Jets' Sanjay Lal, believed to be the first NFL coach of Indian descent, uses a soft approach when guiding his receivers, but is capable of putting a charge into them when needed.
BY MANISH MEHTA / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Sanjay Lal gets a fresh start as he looks to guide a largerly inexperienced group of Jets receivers.
Sanjay Lal sat at the kitchen table inside the home of a man he barely knew and stared across at a man he had never met before.
A path that had taken him from England to Iran to Kuwait to Mexico, and seemingly everywhere in between, had detoured to Summit, N. J., in January.
Rex Ryan was searching for a new wide receivers coach. Lal, a coaching casualty after the purge in Oakland, was searching for his next opportunity. Ryan and new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano were impressed with Lal, believed to be the first NFL coach of Indian descent, but there was one more person he needed to meet: Santonio Holmes.
In many ways, Holmes, the lightning-rod receiver at the heart of the Jets’ meltdown last season, was looking for a fresh start, too. So Ryan gave both men a simple directive to convene at his house even though he wasn’t going to be there.
“Plug this address in your GPS,” Ryan told them. “Go to my place. My wife will let you in.”
“It was important to make the right hire,” Ryan said. “I wanted them to get a feel for each other.”
So they sat alone in Ryan’s kitchen for an hour and a half, exchanging philosophies, airing frustrations and shaping a plan for a possible future together.
“I laid it out,” Lal said. “I wasn’t trying to get a job. Because if you lie to someone to get a job, it’s going to be a nightmare once you get the job. I wasn’t going to do that.”
Holmes, painted as the villain of a season gone wrong, immediately connected with Lal. Less than two weeks after Holmes was benched in the season finale in Miami, the mercurial wide receiver was eager to close that chapter of his career.
He needed to open a clear line of communication with someone else. He gravitated to Lal’s philosophy of stressing the details each day.
“Sanjay was the right guy to bring in at the time,” Holmes said. “When we met at Coach Ryan’s house, we saw eye-to-eye with everything that we talked about. He’s a tough-nosed guy, very mechanical, loves to work on technique and doesn’t take any B.S. from the receivers.”
Lal was hired shortly thereafter, the care-taker of a largely inexperienced group that has been ravaged by injuries entering the Jets’ preseason game against the Panthers on Sunday night.
Despite what Lal had heard of Holmes’ combustible past, he judged only what he saw first-hand from the former Super Bowl MVP.
“If I had listened to people my whole life, I wouldn’t be where I am,” Lal, 43, said. “Everyone’s told me, ‘You can’t play football, you can’t coach. What are you thinking? You’re going to play Division I football? What are you, crazy? How can you do that?’ Blah, Blah, Blah.”
“I felt that it might be a challenge based on what I’ve heard,” he added. “But I wanted to see for myself.”
* * *
In his heart, he knew that he could have carved out an NFL career if his body hadn’t betrayed him.
Lal, the son of a systems analyst from Delhi and a Montessori teacher from Northern India, was never the most physically gifted player at any level. His work ethic turned him into a walk-on wide receiver at UCLA for two years before he transferred to the University of Washington. But hamstring injuries repeatedly sidelined him.
“There are not any athletic genes in my family,” he said with a laugh. “It was all work for me.”
Lal caught the eye of NFL scouts while working as Mark Brunell’s personal receiver at the quarterback’s private workouts in the run-up to the 1993 NFL draft. Lal was invited to Raiders camp before tearing his hamstring. A year and a half later, he suffered another hamstring injury at Rams minicamp.
For years, Lal chased the NFL dream, rehabbing and volunteering with his old high school team in the California East Bay area by day and working a part-time promotions job that paid $17,000 a year by night.
Lal was well-traveled — his father’s job took the family to London, the Middle
East, Mexico City and the United States — and educated. At different times in his life, he spoke Spanish and Hindi and understood Arabic.
But the NFL beckoned. Every time Lal felt fast and free, however, his legs didn’t hold up. So, he made the transition to coaching.
After 11 years coaching in the high school and college ranks, Lal joined the Raiders as an offensive quality control/assistant wide receivers coach in 2007. Two years later, he took over as the wide receivers coach for Al Davis, a promotion that came with very few, if any, vacation days.
Lal’s cerebral and measured style was a hit with the Raiders’ young receivers. “When he did get upset, you knew something really bad must have happened, because he didn’t do it that often,” said Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was a first-round pick in 2009. “As a player, you respect that. He’s not the type of coach that has ‘false enthusiasm.’ He’s not just going to yell just because everybody else is yelling.”
Lal motivated his players by challenging them to always outwork opposing defensive backs. He preached preparation and deviated from his calm and collected demeanor only when he sensed a lack of competitiveness or finish.
“I really can’t think of a time when I thought, ‘Man, this guy has lost it,’” Heyward-Bey said. “I’m just glad that I had him in my first three years, through the good and the bad times. He was the perfect coach for me as a young guy.”
It’s been no different with the Jets.
“He can have that personal conversation that is soft-spoken, but he can flip the switch a little bit and show guys some energy and enthusiasm and get after them,” Sparano said. “When you’re out there in these practices with these group of receivers, sometimes they need that kind of motivation. He’s good for them.”
* * *
The silver digital voice recorder rests on the nightstand by his bed. When a thought jumps into Lal’s head in the middle of the night, he picks it up and speaks softly into it, careful not to wake up his wife, Melody.
On most days, Lal poses a question to himself before shutting off the lights, searching for drills to help young receivers such as Stephen Hill and Royce Pollard sharpen specific routes.
If the wideouts are having trouble grasping a concept, Lal thinks up ways for them to better remember it, code words to trigger recognition. When he wakes up before 6 a.m. each day, he usually has the answers.
“The mind’s always working,” Lal said. “It always revolves around technique and preparation.”
His core belief is simple: The only way to win in this league is by consistently exerting your will on opponents. Lal recently showed his receivers a 45-clip highlight reel of blocks by Raiders receivers to underscore the importance of playing physically at a traditionally non-physical position.
The details matter. When Lal felt that his receivers didn’t execute at peak efficiency during the two-minute drill in the preseason opener against the Bengals two weeks ago, he expressed his discontent in the meeting room the next day.
“He gets a little fired up when things are not going correctly,” Hill said.
Lal has logged countless extra hours working on the 6-foot-4 Hill’s route technique, teaching pass patterns typically run by smaller receivers. He’s also stressed the need to battle through less-than-ideal situations, a mindset that the coach hopes will be a foundation for the young receiver. On most days, Lal is Hill’s magnet at practice, a teacher and mentor.
When Hill injured his finger in practice two weeks ago, he went off to the sideline, doubled over in pain as the trainer examined it. Passing drills continued as Lal’s voice rose above the fray.
“Stephen!” the coach barked. “We need you!”
Hill’s finger was throbbing. He couldn’t even bend it. Moments later, the rookie showed Lal that his lessons hadn’t fallen on deaf ears. The teacher was getting through to the student.
Seeing the receiver that Heyward-Bey became last year has made me a believer in Lal. That was a very raw guy that needed a lot of work. We may not see the results immediately, but I definitely think we'll see the fruits of this hire down the road. We should give him another talented guy to work with in next year's draft.
We have a good coaching staff. All successful franchises have continuity that is why Rex will be our coach for the foreseeable future. In 3 season we have 4 playoff wins and no losing seasons (for this franchise that is an accomplishment).
His core belief is simple: The only way to win in this league is by consistently exerting your will on opponents.
That's what separates the Brady Patriots from others week in and week out. And it's what the Jets need to learn how to do with greater frequency. Just take the opponent by the throat and go for the kill. No tentative bs, no play it safe because we're afraid to make a mistake. Just play with decisiveness and purpose. If Mark can't do that on offense, he shouldn't be a starter in the NFL.
It's a little worrying that his own NFL career was sidelined by hamstring injuries considering that through much of training camp it seems that Kerley, Turner, Holmes and others were sidelined by hamstring injuries.