Robert Saleh, a passionate coordinator and leader of one of the NFL’s best defenses the past two seasons, interviewed for the Jets’ coaching vacancy on Friday.
Saleh, the defensive coordinator of the 49ers the past four seasons, is one of the more sought-after head-coaching candidates this offseason. He also has met with the Falcons and Lions and is scheduled to speak with the Chargers and Jaguars.
Saleh, 41, became the third candidate the Jets have interviewed. General manager Joe Douglas also has spoken with Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and former Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.
The Jets have requested permission to interview Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith and Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. They also will speak to Saints secondary coach Aaron Glenn, a former Jet cornerback.
Those five teams have playoff games this weekend. Because the Colts, Bills and Rams will play Saturday, Eberflus, Daboll and Staley could interview as early as Sunday. Otherwise, Douglas could have a very busy Monday and Tuesday.
The Jets fired Adam Gase after the team went 2-14, the second-worst record in franchise history. CEO Christopher Johnson made it clear that the Jets are looking for someone very different from Gase, who spent too much time worrying about the offense and wasn’t a good leader or communicator.
They also want someone who can help develop this very young team.
Saleh checks a lot of boxes. He’s known for inspiring his players, developing them and getting the most out of them.
He was on the Seahawks’ defensive staff when they were nicknamed "The Legion of Boom" and won a Super Bowl. Saleh helped develop K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner and Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith.
Under Saleh, the 49ers had the NFL’s No. 2 overall defense and top passing defense in 2019 and reached the Super Bowl. This year, despite losing key members of the defense to free agency or injury, Saleh’s group was the No. 4 passing defense and No. 5 overall defense.
"I will be very surprised if we don’t lose him," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. "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 knows more about football, all three phases. And he’s going to hire the best staff."
Saleh might prove to be too good for Douglas to pass up, but the Jets’ GM said he will "cast a very wide net" in finding his next coach, so the process would seem to be in the very early stages.
Time could be of the essence, though. Saleh is from Michigan, and the Lions’ job could be more appealing than others for the Dearborn native. Also,
a group of Michigan state legislators wrote a letter to Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp urging her to hire Saleh, who played tight end for Northern Michigan University and began his coaching career at Michigan State.
Saleh made the jump to the NFL in 2005 as a defensive intern for Houston and continued to climb the coaching ranks. He was promoted to defensive quality control and assistant linebackers coach for the Texans and was the defensive quality control coach for Seattle and the linebackers coach for Jacksonville before taking over the 49ers' defense in 2017.
"He knows about players," Shanahan said. "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."
That doesn’t seem likely.