It feels inevitable at this point that San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will be a head coach for a team in 2021. The Detroit Lions remain the favorite to land Saleh, but they won’t be the only team interested in the Niners defensive coordinator. Good luck finding a better three-hour interview after Saturday's performance than what Saleh showed against a playoff team.
The question everyone wants to know is who replaces Saleh if he’s hired elsewhere. A week and a half ago, we wrote six potential replacements for Saleh. One of those was Vic Fangio, the former Niners defensive coordinator who would love the personnel on the team now. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that it’s unlikely Denver fires Fangio, so we can cross Fangio off the list.
Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer wrote in his MMQB article that he believes two names who were on the list are possible candidates:
“There are some interesting potential coordinator openings across the NFL, and one question is what San Francisco will do if Robert Saleh lands a head coaching job. I’ve heard ex-Falcons coach Dan Quinn’s name raised for that DC job, should Saleh bolt, and current Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris is another name that can be tied to Kyle Shanahan.”
Quinn made a name for himself as the Seahawks defensive coordinator when they had the “legion of boom” and was loaded with talent. During his six seasons in Atlanta, they were consistently below average on defense, and you never watched them and felt like the Falcons had an identity. For that, I’d be out on Quinn, even if he does have the history and experience you like. Results matter and his haven’t been good.
The 49ers will have a few changes in the secondary next season, and Morris is a defensive backs coach at heart. While he’s a retread like Quinn, the way he’s motivated the Falcons to play during his time as their interim head coach and, better yet, how the defense has improved since Quinn was fired is telling. If it came down to these two, take the player’s coach, who has a background in an area of need.
Take a look at the Falcons defense since Quinn left, and Morris took over:
The Falcons have been performing as one of the better defenses since they fired Quinn. If Raheem doesn't get a HC gig, him and Ulbrich should be a hot commodity as a DC (cc 49ers) pic.twitter.com/v09F8Z8EgV— Billy M (@BillyM_91) December 29, 2020
The Falcons made an explosive Chiefs offense look pedestrian this past Sunday. Since the bye week, the Falcons defense has limited the Saints twice, Raiders, Chargers, and Chiefs offenses to 24 points or fewer, and held Bucs offense scoreless for a half.
Continuity will be the goal, so Morris, Quinn, or promoting from within makes the most sense. Linebacker coach Demeco Ryans would be the top internal candidate. If the defense were to maintain it’s stellar play—which is a likely possibility so long as No. 97 stays healthy—I wonder if this turns into a Chiefs offensive coordinator/Patriots defensive coordinator spot that we’ve seen over the past decade, where the 49ers continue to promote names from within who already know how the defense needs to run.
I’m happy for Saleh and excited to see what direction the 49ers go in next at defensive coordinator. They’ll have plenty of suitors. Will Shanahan keep the position in-house, or will he select someone with who he’s had a relationship in the past? We’ll find out soon enough.