Lions head coach: Making an argument for Robert Saleh

Feb 2, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh? before Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off a blowout 41-25 loss to the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving, Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn were fired. There might now be a top candidate to replace Patricia in that of San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

Saleh has long been considered a top-end head-coaching candidate. The 41-year-old Michigan native joined San Francisco as Kyle Shanahan’s defensive coordinator back in 2017. He’s helped that unit morph into one of the most-elite defenses in the NFL.

Related: NFL defense rankings – Fallout from 2021 NFL Draft

Major backing for Robert Saleh to become Detroit Lions head coach

“He (Saleh) has to get the Detroit job,” 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said, via MMQB. “Homegrown. He’s a great leader of men. And he’s not stubborn. He doesn’t just think he has all the answers. He comes up with a great plan and evolves it with his players.”

Meanwhile, NFL insider Benjamin Allbright indicated that Saleh will be the hottest head coach candidate during the next cycle in January.

Saleh as the Lions’ head coach makes a ton of sense in that he’s already received multiple interviews around the NFL, is widely respected and continues to receive the respect of his players. Remember, issues in the locker room initially clouded the early portion of Patricia’s tenure as the Lions’ head coach.

Numbers back up Robert Saleh as Lions next head coach

Dating back to his days as a defensive intern with the Houston Texans back in 2005, Saleh has ascended the assistant coaching ranks at nearly every turn.

He earned respect as the Seahawks’ defensive quality control coach from 2011-13 before taking over as the Jaguars linebackers coach in 2014. During his three-year stint in Duval, Saleh oversaw the emergence of eventual Pro Bowl linebackers Telvin Smith and Myles Jack.

In San Francisco, Saleh has led a defense that continues to dominate at every turn. The improvements are vast. They also lead many to believe he should be the top candidate to become the next Lions head coach.

  • 2017: 24th yards, 25th points
  • 2018: 13th yards, 28th points
  • 2019: Second yards, eighth points
  • 2020: Sixth yards, 11th points

This season has been perhaps Saleh’s best performance in Northern California. Pro Bowlers such as Richard Sherman, Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Ezekiel Ansah have played in a combined seven games. Despite this, Saleh is leading one of the top units in the NFL.

Related: Top candidates to become Lions next head coach

Throwing some cold water on Robert Saleh as Lions next head coach

Lions head coach: Robert Saleh
Jul 27, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; (l to r) San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh smiles alongside head coach Kyle Shanahan as they watch players participates during training camp at the SAP Performance Facility. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

We saw first-hand during Matt Patricia’s short tenure as the Lions’ head coach just how much a defensive-minded personality struggled in that role. Much like Patricia, Saleh has no head-coaching experience at any level.

There has to be some thought given to the idea of Detroit bringing in an offensive-minded head coach to potentially help Matthew Stafford navigate through the back end of his prime should he return to the Lions. It became increasingly clear that he was not on the same page with Patricia.

If Robert Saleh were to become the Lions next head coach, he’d have to bring in an experienced offensive mind to run the ship on that side of the ball. It’s no different than an offensive-minded head coach needing to bring in experience on defense.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Lions, check out #OnePride rumors, rankings, and news here.

But we’re looking at an NFL today that continues to be dominated by elite performances on offense. Short of the Lions changing their MO midstream (a real possibility), hiring Saleh would be somewhat of a risk.

Even then, Saleh has earned his stripes. He’s going to be a head coach in the NFL next season. He’s a local product. It just makes too much sense for him to become the Lions head coach.