The Detroit Lions search for their next head coach has taken an interesting turn in recent days, with a process that continues to push forward with more interviews.
Interestingly, one of the fan favorites for the job could be moving further and further away from the top of the list. San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has a second interview with the New York Jets on Tuesday, and according to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, it could be New York or bust for Saleh.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) January 12, 2021
Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL Radio took that a step further, hinting there is buzz that the Jets could look to close the hire ASAP with Saleh given some interest in him is now coming from Philadelphia.
Buzz growing Robert Saleh to the @nyjets as new HC could be done ASAP, especially with @Eagles making interview push & risk that comes with letting him leave your building. Two folks to keep an eye on for Saleh's staff: Gus Bradley & Mike LaFleur (not Mike Kafka; my bad earlier)
— Alex Marvez (@alexmarvez) January 12, 2021
Saleh interviewed with the Lions last week, and mum has been the word since that interview happened. Does that mean Saleh is out for the Lions? That might not be the case yet either, but it’s clear the momentum continues to build in the opposite direction in terms of his candidacy in his hometown.
If Lions Skip Robert Saleh, What Happens Next?
In the event that Saleh isn’t Detroit’s top choice, there would be panic for some fans considering the fact he has been the people’s choice for some time. The Michigan legislature even passed a resolution calling for the team to hire Saleh. That kind of pressure coming home, however, might be a turnoff in the process. Should Saleh not be the guy, the Lions have some other names that could make sense such as Dan Campbell, Marvin Lewis, Eric Bieniemy and perhaps even Darrell Bevell. Detroit could also take a look at the newly-fired Doug Pederson if they wish, and early odds have given him a decent shot of landing in the Motor City.
None of those names will be as sexy as Saleh in the mind of some, but it doesn’t mean the Lions can’t score a good coach and pair him with a good general manager even if they miss on the hometown talent.
Why Robert Saleh Seen as Strong Fit For Lions
Why would missing out on Saleh be so painful? The 41 year old coordinator might indeed be favored by the team as the potential top candidate thanks to his work on the field and his fit off. Not only is he a great NFL coordinator and one of the top candidates on the coaching carousel, but he got his coaching start as a graduate assistant at Michigan State and Central Michigan after his playing days at Northern Michigan. To this end, he has deep football roots within the state and many have seen that a return home could be a natural fit.
His NFL journey began in 2005 with the Houston Texans, where he was a defensive intern. He rose from that role to linebackers coach and then defensive quality control coach for the Seattle Seahawks before becoming the Jacksonville Jaguars’ linebackers coach in 2014. Finally, he was tapped by Kyle Shanahan in 2017 to lead the 49ers’ defense.
Saleh’s defenses in San Francisco have been tough and ferocious throughout his tenure, which is what the Lions would expect. They are known for strong play in the trenches and secondary where Saleh’s excitement could also help both groups. Last season, Saleh helped the 49ers reach the Super Bowl with one of the best units in the league which is why he gets a ton of love for his work.
While San Francisco has struggled with injuries and consistency during 2020, Saleh’s group has still been good, allowing a paltry 105 rushing yards per-game and a mere 316 passing yards a game. They also have 28 sacks this season, which is a solid total. Detroit’s defense hasn’t managed to be that consistent in years, which is another reason many like Saleh.
Whether or not he makes the final cut in Detroit remains to be seen, but it’s clear he is a favored candidate for the Jets. Given his ties to Michigan, that likely won’t make many around the state very happy.