How Robert Saleh became the 49ers' defense guru


MIAMI – The interview was more of a quiz.

Only Robert Saleh remembered the answers.

Originally asked to be the 49er linebacker coach under Kyle Shanahan, Saleh was shortlisted as a defensive coordinator. When it was time to prove that he deserved the job, his first years as a grunt paid off.

"I remember how he ground me and asked every question he ever could," said Saleh of his interview with Shanahan. "He had so many questions about why things were the way they were, and I was very lucky to be the original Notetaker by Gus Bradley and Pete Carroll at the time [scheme] was created. I was able to explain to him every reason why and what things could happen to make the thing what it is here. "

Saleh was at Carroll's Seahawks 2011-13 – the "Legion of Boom" defense – at the bottom totem pole, but worked under two coordinators who became head coaches (Bradley and Dan Quinn) and five position coaches who became coordinators. Shanahan knew the right answers because he went against the defense every day as Quinn's offensive coordinator in Atlanta.

Six years later, the 49ers believe that they "borrowed time" with Saleh before becoming head coach. He coordinated the NFL's overall secondary defense and the best pass defense behind the 49er run to the Super Bowl 2020.

Robert Saleh
Robert SalehGetty Images

"He took a bit from every coordinator he has ever been a part of," said all-pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who also migrated from the Seahawks to the 49ers. "He even adopted some of his coaching styles. You see some from Gus Bradley, some from Dan Quinn, some from Kris Richard, some from Ken Norton Jr. You see some from Kyle Shanahan, and that makes a really good product."

Saleh followed Bradley to the Jaguars to become a linebacker coach (2014-16), and had another job under Bradley in 2017, fired as Jaguars head coach and hired as Chargers defensive coordinator.

"I was ready to go to the chargers, but Kyle said," Rob, if you hire me as a linebacker trainer, I promise I'll give you a legitimate interview as a coordinator, "said Saleh." It was Time for me to make my own way. I felt that he was legitimate and sincere – which Kyle is always because he is a man of his word and that makes him special – then I would make it difficult for him to say no. "

The Browns only said no to Saleh after interviewing him as head coach. The giants, panthers, cowboys and redskins did not interview him. Error?

Saleh's presence – muscles that produce muscles – corresponds to the animated bursts of energy that he shows on the sidelines to celebrate great plays. It is a gift to the gods of social media memes. But his quiet insights are more in line with his philosophy of teaching practice behind closed doors: he is not a screamer or derogatory.

"They are all men and all want to be treated with respect," said Saleh. “They expect them to treat you as a trainer with respect so that you can reciprocate, understand that we all work together. There is no right way. If you have feedback for me, give me feedback and we will find the best way to do it. It is not a dictatorship. "

After a disappointing 2018 when his job seemed to be in danger, Saleh optimized the defense he grew up in to become the mastermind of the version whose job was to slow down the explosive chiefs. Speed ​​is not the only way to stop speed, he says.

The 49er installed “Wide 9” concepts, which place four defenders instead of five on the short jump line, creating more space for speed edge overtaking in a deep rotation and interchangeable safety precautions. Play the pass first and respond to the run.

"Reporting is really disciplined," said Saleh. “Kansas City has world-class speed and there will be times when they will test us. You can keep up with instincts and understand what types of routes you get. "

For more information on Super Bowl 2020, see the latest episode of the podcast "Gang’s All Here":