Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Shanahan: It’s ‘a matter of time’ before Robert Saleh becomes a head coach

Nov 29, 2020 at 5:29 PM--

With head coaching speculation starting to swirl around San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, fans may want to take the next five games to enjoy having him on their team's sidelines while they still have the chance.

49ers fans certainly must have liked what they saw from Saleh and his defense in their team's 23-20 road win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. Saleh's defense kept the Rams in check while the 49ers built a 17-3 third quarter lead, then held on when it mattered most as the 49ers notched an upset win on a last-second 42-yard field goal from Robbie Gould. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the 49ers while cooling off a Rams team that seemed to be building momentum as the playoffs approached, but it also served as a reminder that Saleh will likely be a hot commodity once teams start hiring new head coaches in the coming weeks.

Three NFL teams have already decided to part ways with their head coaches in the Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, and Detroit Lions. Saleh, who was a finalist for the Cleveland Browns head coaching job last season, would have been a much-talked-about head coaching candidate after the season regardless due to the job he's done with a short-handed defense this year, but the opening of the Lions head coaching job has brought about a quick increase in speculation about his future given the fact he was born and raised right down the road from Detroit in Dearborn.

Peter Schrager of the NFL Network and FOX Sports reported Sunday morning that the Lions have a legitimate interest in Saleh after dismissing head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn the day before, which may prove to be the first of many reports connecting Saleh with the Lions in the coming weeks. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was asked after the win over the Rams if he was concerned about losing Saleh and responded by saying that if it doesn't happen with the Lions after this season, eventually it will happen with someone else.

"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. I keep telling him don't be mad at me, because I know he's going to become one eventually."

Shanahan called the performance of his defense against the Rams "amazing" and credited it with making the plays the 49ers needed to win the game. Shanahan's plan was to turn the game against the Rams into what he called a "grimy," smash-mouth affair, a plan that would have gone up in smoke had the defense not been able to counter the Rams' takeaways with some of its own.

"When we had those three turnovers on offense, it's very tough to win that type of game," Shanahan said. "That's what made it so close. But when the defense ends up getting four turnovers, then it gives you a chance to spite that. I can't say enough about those guys and the staff."

Unless the 49ers collapse on defense over the final five games of the season, it seems likely the speculation around Saleh will only continue to heat up as the year draws to a close. Shanahan will certainly give his blessing to Saleh if a team makes a head coaching offer, but he's also holding out hope that he'll somehow be able to hold onto his defensive coordinator for at least one more season.

"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."

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