The pair’s relationship goes back to the early-1980s when both were top prep athletes – Del Rio at Hayward High School and Salisbury at Orange Glen High School in Escondido, Calif.
“We went to a super star basketball camp together and formed a relationship probably back in my sophomore year of high school,” Salisbury told Raiders.com during Super Bowl week. “If I got married again, I’d probably ask him to be in the wedding party as one of the guys. I have such a strong affinity for him as a person, and a character and a friend, but I hold him in tremendously high regard as a football coach.”
Salisbury is definitely familiar with Del Rio’s work between the hash marks, as the two were not only roommates at USC, but also teammates with the Minnesota Vikings from 1992-94.
Even then, Salisbury, who currently hosts The Prime Cut on Yahoo! Sports Radio, knew that Del Rio could succeed as a coach once his playing days ended.
“We played together in Minnesota for a while, so I saw his leadership continue to evolve, and his football IQ has always been there,” Salisbury explained. “How do people respond to a guy? It’s the same as a quarterback on the field. Does that guy make people better, and want to do more than they’re capable of doing? Jack Del Rio has always made me do more.”
The friendship continued after they playing days concluded, with Salisbury becoming an analyst and Del Rio embarking on a career as a coach, and in their talks since Del Rio became the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Salisbury has seen a difference in his friend from when he was coaching in Jacksonville.
“You learn,” Salisbury said. “You learn what to do and what not to do. I’m a big believer, and I think Jack is this guy, in that you manage things; paperwork, contracts, what coffee is in the office, and you lead people, and there’s a huge difference. You lead people and manage things. He allows his coaches to coach. He treats his guys like men, and people say player’s coach, but they use it different with Jack.”
While Del Rio certainly learned a great deal from his first head coaching experience – he’s said as much himself; Salisbury also knows that a good coach is nothing without good players to work with.
“With the three stars, with [Khalil] Mack, and [Derek] Carr, and [Amari] Cooper, they have the foundation for three of the best young players at their position in the league,” he said. “I think you have a coach that not only gets it, but is going to take them places. One of my best friends is coaching my favorite team and while I know Jack feels lucky to be here, the Raiders are lucky to have him.”
As Salisbury intimated, Del Rio’s return to the Silver and Black also represents a return to the Bay Area, the place he grew up, and an area that he still holds closely to him.
However, his old college roommate knows that as special as it was to come home, the tune and tenor of Del Rio’s homecoming will change if the wins don’t come.
It’s been just over a year since Del Rio became the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, and while the 7-9 record the team earned is far from where the team wants to be, Salisbury has no fear that his childhood friend can get the team where they need to be.
“Let me tell you one thing about Jack Del Rio, one thing I’ve never had to worry about with Jack Del Rio is if he’s confident,” Salisbury said. “Jack can come out and lose a game, but he expects this team to be player, not in an arrogant way, but if you don’t have a little bit of swagger and a little bit of confidence, you’re in the wrong sport, you’re sure as heck coaching the wrong sport.”
He continued, “Trust me, you’re never going to have to worry about whether or not he thinks his team can win a championship, and I know he believes he can too.”