SF 49ers: 4 potential replacements for Robert Saleh in 2021

Robert Saleh, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Robert Saleh, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /
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SF 49ers, Dan Quinn
Head coach Dan Quinn of the Atlanta Falcons (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

SF 49ers Candidate No. 3: Dan Quinn

In former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, you get the opposite of what Wade Phillips does. Quinn made his bread and butter working off the rigid scheme of the Seattle Cover 3.

The Seattle Cover 3, from a basic understanding, operates with a deep free safety playing single-high coverage and taking the deep third of the field. The two cornerbacks, playing sides rather than receivers, play the other two boundary deep thirds of the field. The two linebackers and the strong (box) safety play the shallow and intermediate zones, forcing teams to make small incremental gains that sometimes don’t happen.

Quinn’s defense in Seattle was spectacular before he took the Atlanta Falcons’ head coaching job in 2015, which made sense given the talent he was working with and how uniquely built for the scheme it was. Cornerback Richard Sherman was able to dominate a boundary, safety Earl Thomas had incredible range, allowing him to erase any issues on the back-end from the other cornerback, and both in-the-box defenders Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor made easy work of the intermediate zones.

In Atlanta, the scheme didn’t work to the same level. While the SF 49ers have talent on their team, they don’t have the specific secondary talent that behooves the Seattle Cover 3 to work to the level it did with the Legion of Boom. There is a reason the defense picked up last year beyond the pass rush, and that was the variations of coverage thrown by Robert Saleh that made the Niners unpredictable.

When they went back to a Cover 3-type situation, this happened:

Quinn has familiarity with San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan from their days in Atlanta. And although Quinn’s recent track record isn’t great, his overall body of work is nothing to scoff at.

However, while Phillips would cause too much change, making his hiring unlikely, Quinn would roll back the changes made by Saleh, causing a different but equally challenging problem.

He certainly is a top candidate for the job, though.