49ers: Robert Saleh will be a hot head coach candidate this offseason

49ers (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
49ers (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is expected to be a hot head-coaching candidate this offseason which could be bad news for the 49ers.

The San Francisco 49ers have seen their defense completely transformed this season under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. And as a result, Saleh will likely be at the forefront of head coach rumors this offseason.

Saleh has risen to stardom this season on the heels of his eccentric pre-game rituals and bombastic in-game energy. It also certainly hasn’t hurt matters that his defense is currently among the NFL’s most elite.

Some may even say the 49ers have the best defense in the NFL today — an idea that is difficult to dispute.

Either way, Saleh’s rise to fame has seemingly come overnight and in the unlikeliest of ways. Entering the 2019 season, the 40-year-old defensive coordinator was arguably the most scrutinized member of the 49ers coaching staff.

The 49ers originally hired him back in 2017 under first-year head coach Kyle Shanahan but failed to find much success in his first two seasons in San Francisco. In fact, his defenses’ performances were so underwhelming that many believed that he was coaching for his job this season.

Saleh’s defense in 2017 ranked 26th in the NFL in terms of total DVOA, per Football Outsiders — a numerical value given to each positional unit. It was understandable though given that the defense he had inherited was devoid of much talent.

More from Golden Gate Sports

Things improved slightly in 2018 with his defense climbing to 23rd in the NFL but it was clear that there was still work to be done. But there was reason to be optimistic about the defense going into 2019.

However, nobody could have predicted the meteoric leap the 49ers defense would take this season.

Through 12 games, the 49ers defense ranks third in total DVOA and first in the NFL in total defense. The 49ers have the No. 1 pass defense by a considerable margin and only the Carolina Panthers have amassed more sacks on the year.

It’s been an incredible turnaround for Saleh’s defense helped by the acquisition of some key players in the offseason. Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Kwon Alexander have all helped transform the 49ers defense but much of the credit must go to the returning talent.

Arik Armstead is having a career year. So too are Ahkello Witherspoon and Jimmie Ward. Fred Warner is developing into one of the best linebackers in the game while Richard Sherman looks like the Richard Sherman of old.

That’s on the players, but it’s also a result of some excellent coaching from Saleh who has managed to maximize his talent on defense. And many believe that his success in San Francisco will lead to a head coaching job sooner rather than later.

The Athletic’s Jay Glazer speculated that it could happen as soon as this offseason.

"“The rumors are very strong. It’s likely dependent upon his interview. Sometimes there are guys who are hot then they go in and have a horrible interview. I don’t see that happening with him because he can command that room. He’s going to go in there and get an owner really fired up, talk about the defense he’s been able to run, and how he can fix a team’s energy. If he can follow up with a great interview, I see him getting a job.”"

Saleh leaving would obviously be a massive blow to a 49ers defense that has played at an elite level this season. But given everything he’s done in San Francisco, it’s hard to say that he wouldn’t deserve the promotion.

Some have even speculated that he could be the person to take over for Ron Rivera in Carolina. But it appears that there is a near-universal opinion that he will get interviews this winter, it just remains to be seen if he gets a job or not.

Next. 49ers: 5 players who could make the Pro Bowl this season. dark

Saleh entered the 2019 season coaching for his job. Now, it looks as though he’s coached himself into a new one.