A Closer Look: Robert Saleh
Current job: Defensive coordinator for San Francisco 49ers
NFL job log: After coaching at Michigan State, Central Michigan and Georgia in the early-to-mid 2000s as a defensive assistant, Saleh entered the NFL coaching ranks with the Houston Texans in 2005 as a defensive intern. He moved up the coaching ranks in Houston to become the assistant linebackers coach during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He became the defensive quality control coach under Pete Carroll in Seattle from 2011-13. He was the Jacksonville Jaguars linebackers coach from 2014-16 before taking over his current role as San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator in 2017.
Specialty: Saleh is considered one of the best young motivators and defensive minds in the game today.
Career highlights: In 2019 the 49ers' defense was ranked second in the NFL in total defense (281.8 yards per game), first in passing defense (169.2), fourth in sacks (48) and sixth in forced turnovers (27). That unit helped San Francisco to a 13-3 record and appearance in Super Bowl LIV, where they lost to Kansas City.
Saleh won a Super Bowl while coaching in Seattle.
Detroit connection: Saleh, 41, grew up in Dearborn just a few miles from the Lions' Allen Park practice facility. He attended Dearborn Fordson High School and went to college at Northern Michigan. He began his coaching career at Michigan State (2002-2003) and Central Michigan (2004).
Quote: "I will be very surprised if we don't lose (Saleh)," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters Sunday. "I don't know what's wrong with people if they don't hire him. He's as good as you can get, knows more about football, all three phases, and he's going to hire the best staff, he knows about players, he knows what they're talking about, who doesn't know what they're talking about. He also knows how to deal with people. I hope everyone's not very smart and doesn't hire him so I can keep him, but I'm expecting not to have him."
Tim Twentyman's take: We all know fixing Detroit's defense in 2021 is job No. 1 for the new GM and head coach. Who better for the task than a coach like Saleh, with a proven track record on the defensive side of the ball, and who seems to be a terrific motivator. There was a disconnect between the old regime and the locker room. This time around, the Lions need a good communicator and leader, and those seem to be some of Saleh's strongest traits.
Mike O'Hara's take: Like most candidates looking to be a head coach for the first time, Saleh has made the necessary stops to fill out his resume – from grad assistant in college to quality control and position coach in the NFL and finally as coordinator of the 49ers the last four seasons. Saleh is highly regarded in NFL circles as one of the young coaches destined to move up to head coach. The energy he displays is transmitted to his players, and the results reflect that. The 49ers had a disappointing 6-10 won-loss record and were hit hard by injuries on defense, but the defense ranked fifth in yards allowed (314.4 per game), fourth in passing yards (207.7) and seventh in rushing (106.4).