SF 49ers rumors: Robert Saleh lining up interviews, could get more

Robert Saleh, San Francisco 49ers.(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Robert Saleh, San Francisco 49ers.(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The SF 49ers will likely lose defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to a head-coaching job in 2021, and these teams are reportedly interested.

In 2017 and 2018, SF 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh received a lot of flak from the fanbase, which called out the relative lack of success both he and that side of the ball had in back-to-back underwhelming seasons.

In 2019, when the Niners fielded one of the best defenses in the NFL en route to a Super Bowl appearance, many touted the on-field talent, not Saleh, as the primary reason behind the success.

In 2020, however, Saleh engineered what’s been a masterpiece campaign for a San Francisco defense missing some of its best players including EDGE Nick Bosa, cornerback Richard Sherman for most of the year, safety Jaquiski Tartt and an ever-changing array of backups and role players. For the better part of three quarters against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 17, Saleh’s defense not only made quarterback Russell Wilson and Co. look stoppable, it made Seattle look ineffective.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with people if they don’t hire him,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said of Saleh after Week 17’s loss. “I mean, he’s as good as you can get and knows more about football, all three phases. And he’s going to hire the best staff. He knows about players. He knows who knows what they’re talking about. Who doesn’t know what they’re talking about? And he also knows how to deal with people.”

That was the last bit of advertisement from Saleh this season, and he’ll be a highly sought-after head-coaching candidate for a number of teams looking to fill vacancies in 2021.

Niner Noise listed out some possibilities already. But let’s scour the latest news, rumors and speculation to see which teams might be on the short list for Saleh’s next landing spot.

Detroit Lions

There’s already been a good deal of buzz surrounding the Detroit Lions luring Saleh in to replace fired head coach Matt Patricia. In addition to legislators in the area lobbying the Lions to pursue Saleh, his own family and friends in the area have pressed the defensive coordinator to accept a position in Detroit if offered.

Saleh is originally from nearby Dearborn, Michigan.

NFL.com reported Saleh will interview with the Lions later this week, and Detroit is also scheduled to interview Seahawks general manager John Schneider, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Atlanta Falcons

In the same report filed by Rapoport and NFL.com, Saleh was also linked to the Atlanta Falcons’ head-coaching vacancy, and this was later confirmed by Shanahan to reporters on Sunday:

"I’m sure that’ll happen all tomorrow. I mean, I don’t think, and no, that never happened with me until the Monday of. A lot of people try to do it out of respect to you. And I know Saleh is going to have a number lined up and I think he is going to get one with Atlanta pretty fast."

Atlanta is also going to interview Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, notably to exploit what could be the final effective years from quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones.

But the Falcons, who operated a similar 4-3, Cover 3-style defense under fired head coach Dan Quinn, have many of the pieces in place for Saleh to take over a unit tailored to the kind of scheme he’d ideally like to run.

Houston Texans

No official report has surfaced suggesting the Houston Texans would look to Saleh as a long-term replacement for fired head coach Bill O’Brien.

But the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain put out an interesting tweet on Sunday afternoon suggesting the would-be fit:

Saleh would have to change up the Texans defense to an extent, although he’d benefit from getting to work with one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL today, Deshaun Watson.

An interesting tidbit, as McClain pointed out, is Saleh broke into NFL coaching ranks with Houston back in 2005 as a defensive intern, rising up to become an assistant linebackers coach in 2010 before eventually joining the Seahawks staff.

Jacksonville Jaguars

General manager John Lynch confirmed to reporters on Monday the Jacksonville Jaguars, who also fired head coach Doug Marrone, requested permission to interview Saleh.

As is the case with Houston, Saleh has a prior working relationship with the Jaguars organization, serving there as a linebackers coach under former head coach Gus Bradley between 2014 and 2016.

Jacksonville could be an attractive destination considering it owns the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and has more cap space available than any other team in the league, currently, heading into next season.

Los Angeles Chargers

In the line of getting a similar defensive makeup of a team to pair with a coach like Saleh, the LA Chargers would make a lot of sense as our FanSided friends over at Bolt Beat pointed out.

The Chargers also requested permission, too, as reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter:

Los Angeles is moving on from head coach Anthony Lynn, who had one of Saleh’s mentors, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, calling plays on that side of the ball since 2017. Before that, Saleh worked under Bradley when the latter was the Jacksonville Jaguars’ head coach.

In that vein, assuming Bradley is also gone in the wake of Lynn’s firing, the Chargers defense would essentially be tailored to Saleh’s own coaching skill set.

And one could easily make the argument it has far more talent available to him than what either the Falcons, Lions or Texans field.

dark. Next. 4 teams that could hire Robert Saleh away from 49ers

If there’s one thing for certain, though, it sure seems like the SF 49ers got the most out of Saleh for his last two years’ efforts.

The other certainty is, assuming Saleh is hired, the Niners would get two compensatory draft picks, one in 2021 and another in 2022, for developing a minority coach into a head coach.