Robert Saleh will return for 2019 as San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator. Kyle Shanahan confirmed the retention in his end of season press conference with John Lynch.
Robert Saleh’s defense came under fire in 2018 when the 49ers encountered several communication issues, resulting in busted coverages and players not on the same page. Overall, The 49ers have the 28th-ranked defense in points allowed, and ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency. Most notably, their seven turnovers forced ranked dead last. It had been indicated as 2018 wore on that the 49ers would retain him for the following year so this is nothing more than a confirmation on what was expected.
Shanahan was asked what he has seen of Saleh that indicated he was the guy for the job moving forward, and can build this into a championship-caliber defense.
“I’m with him every day, so I know how good of a coach he is, I know how he is schematically, I know how he is dealing with the players, I know what he can handle with his personality and how smart he is — and that’s a lot. I also know that he took over a 32nd-ranked defense and is — I don’t know what we finished up today, I haven’t seen the final rankings — I think he’s improved us a lot. I think we went from one of the worst defenses stopping the run in the history of football to being a pretty sound defense versus the run. I think we played a lot more sound and we’ve taken drastic improvements in the two years we’ve been here.
“And I think he did go through a lot this year with injuries and stuff. Not as much talked about because not a lot of guys were put on IR, but to play with eight safeties during the year, to change your two inside linebackers throughout the year, I think we had a lot of turnover — which is part of football. But we need to get better at not giving up as many points, which will help the less we turn it over on offense, the more turnovers we can get on defense. Saleh’s done a good job, and I think he’ll only get better.”
General manager John Lynch made a good point about the work Saleh is doing and the patience they are showing. He talked about how Shanahan wanted someone versed in the Seattle style of defense, but they also wanted to turn that style into their own. Lynch saw progress this season in part because the team started to figure out its identity to some extent — most notably up front with the decisions to move Arik Armstead into a nickel nose role, and moving Solomon Thomas inside on passing downs.
Shanahan made a point that he will always try to make the team better. He stated an example on if New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick came available as a defensive coordinator, he’d put him on the coaching staff. That reality won’t be coming to fruition, but it’s something to keep in mind if a big name were to come available in the coming months.
While Saleh will be returning, 2019 may be a prove-it year. Despite returning, Saleh’s defense, with its blown leads and communication issues, will no doubt be going under the microscope. The team is likely to add a premium pass rusher, either with their No. 2 overall pick or in free agency. If they add that kind of talent and Saleh’s defense turns in numbers similar to what we saw in 2018, one would have to assume his seat would be boiling hot.