Saleh says call for him to be next Lions coach ‘flattering’; wants to focus on Niners’ duties

Robert Saleh isn’t oblivious to what’s going on back in his home state of Michigan, but the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator doesn’t feel its the appropriate time for him to be thinking about what could be when he still has people counting on him to do the job he has now. 

Saleh, a Dearborn native and Northern Michigan alum, is largely viewed as one of the leading candidates for the Detroit Lions head coaching vacancy. His candidacy has even transcended outside the realm of football after 36 state legislators sent a letter of recommendation to owner Sheila Ford Hamp last week. 

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh (Photo: Tony Avelar, AP)

“You know, it’s flattering and all, but I would still imagine that the Lions are going to go through their due diligence and go through their process and still try to find a way to hire the best man for that job,” Saleh said in an interview for the Adam Schefter Podcast. “But it still comes back to the fact that we have five weeks left in the season too. Like I said, while it’s flattering, my mind is solely focused on Monday night and just getting our guys ready to play a game and see if we can make a playoff push. With every week, we get a little bit healthier and healthier. The longer we linger, the better chance we have to make the playoffs. And if we get in the playoffs with a fully loaded roster, I think the NFC will be in trouble.”

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The 49ers are hosting the Buffalo Bills on Monday night at their temporary home in Glendale, Arizona after Santa Clara County booted them with a three-week ban on professional sports games and practices. With a victory over the Bills, the 49ers would move to 6-6 on the season and into a tie for the seventh and final seed in the conference with Arizona and Minnesota. 

But the opportunity to possibly coach the Lions (or some other NFL team) looms, even though he insists he hasn’t allowed himself to think about it. 

“I know it’s not the answer you want, I just haven’t had time to digest that,” Saleh told Schefter. “I know my family is uber excited. I know friends from high school, they blow my phone up every day and they’re super excited. But I’m not lying to anybody when I can genuinely can say that it would be irresponsible for me to really think about it when there’s an organization who is counting on every person who is involved with the organization to do the best they can. If my mind is elsewhere, there’s no way in heck I can do my best. I really haven’t had time to reflect on any of the job openings or any possibilities moving forward.”

More: With Bob Quinn gone, Lions’ personnel decision-making becomes team effort

Saleh also touched on his personal life, his previous head coaching interview with the Browns last offseason, coping with losing the Super Bowl last season and how his time in Seattle as a young coach was invaluable to his development. 

He and his wife, Sanaa, are preparing to welcome their seventh child this spring and Robert noted how difficult it will be to be away from his family the next month while the 49ers are sequestered in Arizona. 

As for the Browns interview last year, Saleh praised the thoroughness of the organization’s interview process, as well as the job Kevin Stefanski has done since earning the job. 

“It was cool to be able to go through that process, but like I said, things happen for a reason,” Saleh said.

Philosophically, Saleh praised the role Seahawks coach Pete Carroll played in his development.

Saleh arrived in Seattle in 2011, after six years with the Houston Texans, and left three years later, following Gus Bradley to Jacksonville when the defensive coordinator accepted the franchise’s head coaching position in 2014.  

“If you look where things took a turn for me the most would be my time in Seattle, when coach Carroll and Gus Bradley and everybody in that room, there was such a challenge, especially from Pete, for all of us to discover who we are and find out what our identities are and what was important to us and really identify with ourselves,” Saleh explained. “It was really around that time — and mind you I’m in my early 30s and I already have a child — where I really sat back and took the time to reflect on me and what was important to me. I really just sat back and watched how everybody operated to create my own self-identity.

“Obviously, I’ve become my own person, but the leadership I was afforded along the way, especially in Seattle, with all those different people, you could not ask for a better situation for a young, early 30s, being a part of that Seattle coaching staff and all those superstars, not as coaches but as men, to help groom and help someone that was begging for knowledge. They did not waste a single breath on me. 

“There’s two ways to approach young men,” Saleh concluded. “The first way is to make them go get coffee and the second way is to water their plant so they can grow as much as possible. Seattle was the first place that taught me that watering a plant was a helluva lot better. Couldn’t be more thankful.”

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Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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Wednesday November 2, 2022