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Shanahan: Only a ‘matter of time’ before 49ers’ DC Robert Saleh becomes a head coach

San Francisco’s defense has played well all season without some of its star players.

Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers have been missing Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Richard Sherman for basically the entire season. Still, the defense remains among the strongest in the NFL.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has done an excellent job keeping his unit focused, despite all of the injuries. The Niners have been without several starters on their defense and remain in the top 10 in yards allowed per game.

Saleh’s defense played its best game of the season against the Los Angeles Rams, holding Jared Goff to just 182 passing yards while forcing four turnovers. The unit gave San Francisco a chance to win after the offense looked anemic throughout the second half.

The Detroit Lions are reportedly interested in hiring Saleh as their next head coach. Even if Saleh doesn’t end up in the Motor City, Kyle Shanahan knows it will be challenging to keep the defensive coordinator on his staff for the long haul.

“I’m always concerned. I never want to lose Saleh,” Shanahan said. “I never want to lose any of our coaches, to tell you the truth. I thought he deserved one last year. Whether this game happened or not, it’s a matter of time before he becomes one.”

Saleh’s energy is infectious. He is loud and boisterous on the sidelines and is always there to greet his guys after a big play. Sherman — who spent three seasons with Saleh in Seattle before joining the 49ers in 2018 — praised his defensive coordinator after the victory over L.A for how he has handled all of the adversity that has come this season.

“He never makes an excuse and statistically we are still a top-five defense in almost every category,” Sherman said. “He’s making great plans week-in and week-out. I expect him to be a head coach next year because of what he’s able to do. He’s able to rally men, he’s a leader of men and that goes a long way.”

Saleh’s leadership showed in the win over L.A. Linebacker Fred Warner — who has developed into an All-Pro level talent playing under Saleh — knows his defensive coordinator always brings his best against the Rams.

“I give him all the credit,” Warner said. “He sets us up so well against [the Rams] even though they’re such an explosive offense and are so successful against other teams.”

Saleh had his struggles when he first took over the job in 2017. San Francisco’s defense ranked in the bottom-third in DVOA over his first two seasons. Now, he’s in line for an NFL head coaching gig.

“I hope he stays here as long as possible,” Shanahan said. “He needs to be in no rush. So hopefully people don’t figure it out and he stays here for a little bit.”

Do you think Saleh will be back with the 49ers next season?