A year ago, when new San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was putting together his coaching staff, he interviewed Robert Saleh. Reports at the time said the February 10th interview was for the defensive coordinator job, and when the team announced his hiring on February 17th, it was as defensive coordinator.
It turns out it was not quite that simple. 49ers.com senior reporter Joe Fann put together a lengthy feature on Saleh, going back to his decision to quit the finance world to pursue a coaching career. We’ve heard some of the story before, but it included a nugget about Shanahan’s initial decision to hire him.
When Shanahan first approached Saleh about joining his coaching staff, it was to serve as linebackers coach. Saleh had served as linebackers coach under Gus Bradley in Jacksonville. Bradley and his staff were fired after the 2016 season, and after the 49ers reportedly pursued Bradley for the DC role, the veteran coach joined the Los Angeles Chargers in that role. Bradley wanted Saleh to join him in the linebackers coach role.
According to Saleh, he went back to Shanahan to broach the idea of instead becoming defensive coordinator. Shanahan was not sure at that point. He had known Saleh for some time, but did not know much about his development as a coach. Shanahan wanted a commitment from Saleh to become linebackers coach before they could even get into him becoming defensive coordinator.
Saleh decided this was an opportunity to forge his own path, and he credits Pete Carroll’s for encouraging him (and his entire coaching staff) to carve out their own path rather than simply regurgitate someone else’s philosophy. Saleh thought about it and decided to take Shanahan’s offer.
“You want to talk about one of the harder things I’ve had to do – it was separating from (Bradley),” Saleh said. “His teaching ability and all that he’s done for my family – that part was hard. I also felt like it was something that I had to do in order to see if I could do it on my own.”
Apparently Saleh pushed on Shanahan about the DC role, for which Shanahan eventually relented to formally interview him. He was impressed with Saleh, and next thing you know, Saleh is being introduced as the team’s defensive coordinator.
There was some thought at the time that Saleh was a place-holder defensive coordinator. The 49ers reportedly pursued Gus Bradley, and Kyle Shanahan was reported to be interested in Vic Fangio as an option. However, it would appear the 49ers might just have their long-term option, at least for the next few years.
In year one of the Robert Saleh defense, there were plenty of ups and downs. Things were starting to come together by the end of the season, and the team heads into year two with some talent added to the mix. There are plenty of questions. The pass rush added Jerry Attaochu and not much else. Richard Sherman could be starting but is coming off a torn Achilles. Adrian Colbert and Jaquiski Tartt have limited started experience but will be the two starting safeties.
There are questions, but at the same time, plenty of opportunity. It makes for a huge year for both the unit and Robert Saleh.
If you get a minute, make sure and give Joe Fann’s entire article a read. It has a host of interesting nuggets, including Shanahan and Saleh’s golf bets.