SF 49ers: 3 best replacements for Robert Saleh if he leaves in 2021

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /
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Kyle Shanahan, SF 49ers, Robert Saleh
Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports /

It wouldn’t be crazy if the SF 49ers lost defensive coordinator Robert Saleh in 2021, meaning these three could be considered replacements.

Last season, when the SF 49ers boasted one of the league’s most elite defenses, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh became a pretty notable head coaching candidate.

As things turned out, he received only one interview: the Cleveland Browns’ vacancy, which was eventually filled by former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. Needless to say, head coach Kyle Shanahan was more than happy Saleh returned for at least one more year.

Heading towards the 2021 offseason, Saleh should yet again be another top name on coaching vacancies. In many ways, this season has been a masterpiece from Saleh after multiple years of ridicule. Perhaps he’s learned the nuances of being a coordinator. That’s great. So is the fact Saleh’s defense ranks seventh best in yards allowed, 10th best in rush yards allowed and fourth best in total pass yards given up.

All without some of the SF 49ers’ top defensive contributors — EDGE Nick Bosa, EDGE Dee Ford, cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Jaquiski Tartt — who have been out for extended periods of time due to injury.

In many ways, Saleh, not Shanahan, has been the Niners’ best coach in 2020.

A September listing of potential coaching candidates for 2021 from Sports Illustrated put Saleh at the very top, suggesting there’s a real chance another team plucks the defensive-minded coach away from San Francisco this offseason. While the SF 49ers defense hasn’t been lights out this year like it was a year ago, no doubt other franchises have paid attention to just how much Saleh has helped navigate the issues.

If Saleh does depart for a head coaching job, these three candidates could be excellent choices to fill the void.