Kyle’s update, 7:42 p.m.:
Text from @49ers GM John Lynch on Robert Saleh: "Robert's earned this opportunity. He's smart, a tremendously gifted leader and ready for this challenge. We'll miss him dearly but he's left us better and we'll be proud of all that he'll accomplish. The @Jets are very fortunate."— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 15, 2021
After months of speculation, we now know where Robert Saleh will be for the 2021 NFL season.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that The New York Jets have agreed to hire the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator as their new head coach, marking the end of Saleh’s four-year tenure in the Bay Area.
Jets are hiring former 49ers’ DC Robert Saleh as their next head coach, per league sources. The two sides now have reached agreement on a five-year deal.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 15, 2021
With Saleh now officially gone, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport says the Niners will promote linebackers coach Dameco Ryans to defensive coordinator.
With Robert Saleh gone, expect the #49ers to promote LBs coach DeMeco Ryans as their new defensive coordinator, source said. An impressive young coach.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 15, 2021
Schefter adds that Saleh will be taking one of the 49ers’ coaches with him to the Big Apple. It looks like Saleh will hire Niners’ passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur as his offensive coordinator.
New Jets’ HC Robert Saleh is expected to take 49ers passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur as his offensive coordinator, per sources. https://t.co/3b8mPeFfPU— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 15, 2021
It isn’t surprising to see Saleh on the move. He did a great job with an injury-ravaged San Francisco defense that finished fifth in yards allowed per game. Despite missing Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Richard Sherman and other vital members of the secondary, the 49ers only gave up 207.9 passing yards per contest, fourth-fewest in the NFL.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan has been preparing for Saleh’s departure for quite some time. He has been answering questions regarding Saleh’s abilities as a head coach for the past few months and foresaw this for quite some time. He would have been shocked if Saleh wasn’t hired during the offseason.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with people if they don’t hire him. I mean, he’s as good as you can get. … And he’s going to hire the best staff. He knows about players. He knows who knows what they’re talking about. … And he also knows how to deal with people. So, I hope everyone’s not very smart and doesn’t hire them so I can keep him. But I’m expecting not to have him.”
San Francisco’s defense has improved since Saleh’s first season with the organization. Here is where the 49ers’ defense has ranked in DVOA over the past four seasons, per Football Outsiders.
The Niners didn’t have a ton of talent on defense in 2017. They added All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman in free agency before the 2018 season, but the lack of pass rushers resulted in the 49ers finishing with just 37 sacks that year, tied for seventh-fewest in the NFL.
Things changed during the 2019 offseason. General manager John Lynch bolstered the defensive line by selecting Nick Bosa No. 2 overall at the draft and traded for veteran Dee Ford. Bosa and Ford joined Arik Armstead and the now-departed DeForest Buckner to give San Francisco the best D-line in the NFL.
Saleh’s patience with his Cover 3 scheme paid off in a big way during the 2019 season. The defense gave up a league-low 169.2 passing yards per game, and its 48 sacks were tied for fifth-most among all NFL teams.
The 2020 season got off to a brutal start for Saleh and the defense. Ford and Sherman were hurt in the Week 1 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, and then the unit lost Bosa and Solomon Thomas to torn ACLs in the Week 2 win over the New York Jets.
Even without all of the high-end talent, Saleh did a great job making sure his guys were prepared each week. San Francisco’s pass-rushing took a noticeable hit without Bosa and Ford, but the emergence of players like Jason Verrett and Kerry Hyder helped Saleh’s unit remain strong. The fact the defense kept the team in games — despite missing Pro Bowl level players — is the main reason why Saleh became on the hottest names in league circles to get a head coaching gig in 2021.
The 41-year-old’s energy on the sidelines was hard to miss. Saleh was vocal and was always the first to greet his players when they came off the field after making a big play. His players loved playing for him, and he was well-respected in the locker room.
“I expect him to be a head coach next year, because of what he’s able to do,” Sherman said during the season. “He’s able to rally men. He’s a leader of men, and that goes a long way.”
Saleh reflected on his time in the Bay Area before the season-finale against the Seattle Seahawks and was full of gratitude when discussing what he has learned from Shanahan and Lynch.
“Through four years, I’ve been very fortunate of just being able to learn from many people. So, when I look at the leadership that John and Kyle have provided here, it’s been eye-opening in terms of the way organizations run and what those two have done just from a, not only a collaboration standpoint, but from a vision standpoint in terms of getting everybody on the same page and creating a mindset within an organization where we all, again, in this building, we just all have such a great appreciation for one another.”
Saleh will take over a Jets team that went 2-14 under former head coach Adam Gase during the 2020 season. New York holds the second pick in April’s draft and could look to take a quarterback or stick with its 2018 first-round selection Sam Darnold.
The 49ers will get some compensation for losing their defensive coordinator as part of the NFL’s initiative to encourage teams to hire minority coaches. Because Saleh is of Lebanese-descent, he falls under this category. San Francisco will get a pair of draft picks, one each in 2021 and 2022, for Saleh’s departure. The selections will be in the third round, following the comp picks.
What will you remember most about Saleh? Who do you think will be the 49ers’ defensive coordinator next season?