Saleh has been the 49ers defensive coordinator for the past four seasons
By Dan Schneier & Chris Bengel
The New York Jets have their next head coach. On Thursday, the team announced it had reached an agreement with former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to take the job. Saleh will replace Adam Gase, who went 9-23 in his two seasons as the Jets head coach.
Saleh interviewed with both Jets CEO Christopher Johnson and GM Joe Douglas earlier this week. The Jets cast a wide net when it came to interviewing coaching candidates. Saleh was one of nine coaching candidates to be interviewed by the Jets. After helping to mold an elite 49ers defense in 2019 before falling prey to bad injury luck in 2020, Saleh was a hot candidate on the coaching market. In addition to the Jets, Saleh met with the Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Chargers, and Jacksonville Jaguars, the latter of whom ultimately hired Urban Meyer.
Saleh’s defenses with the 49ers were likely his main selling point. Just one season after coaching up the NFL‘s elite unit, he remained in the top half of all major statistical categories despite losing a slew of starters including his best defensive player in Nick Bosa. Saleh’s 49ers defensive ranked No. 3 in 2019 in EPA (expected points against) per play and they ranked No. 6 in 2020. Saleh, 41, becomes the 20th head coach in the history of the Jets franchise and their fourth in the last eight years.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Saleh will bring with him another 49ers assistant coach — passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur. In New York, LaFleur will take over as the offensive coordinator under Saleh. This is a really interesting hire specifically because there has been speculation over what current Jets quarterback Sam Darnoldwould look like in Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system.
The expectation is that LaFleur will bring over a similar system, albeit with his own wrinkles, and this would make for a nice fit for the former No. 3 overall draft pick. LaFleur is the brother of Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, and previously served on Kyle Shanahan-led offensive staffs (Cleveland, Atlanta) before following him to San Francisco, first as wide receivers coach and then as passing game coordinator.
It remains to be seen if Darnold is in the future plans for New York as they currently hold the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and could opt to select a new franchise signal caller.
49ers cornerback Richard Sherman has been vocally supportive of Saleh getting a head coaching and Tweeted out his congratulations to the Jets. Sherman is a free agent this offseason and could be someone to keep an eye on as the Jets look to improve their secondary this offseason.
Saleh is also well-liked and well-respected by all 49ers defensive players including Pro Bowl linebacker Fred Warner. Saleh played a key role in developing Warner, a former third-round pick, into one of the NFL’s best off-ball linebackers.
“Best D.C. in the league,” Warner told reporters right before the 49ers’ final game of the season. “Just got so much respect for that guy. He’s just such a smart mind and on top of that, just knowing exactly what he wants. He makes it crystal clear for everyone, black and white. We know exactly what to do on any given snap, no gray area.
“I love that guy. I know he’s going to be a great head coach one day soon.”
Now, after originally joining the NFL in 2005 as a Texans intern, Saleh gets his chance to prove that he can be the great head coach the players who have suited up for him believe that he can become.