Potential LA Chargers head coach profile: Robert Saleh


The LA Chargers added another high-quality candidate to their list of interview requests on Tuesday afternoon.

The LA Chargers continue to request interviews with the top tier coaching candidates in this cycle. So far they have requested eight interviews, and that now includes the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers: Robert Saleh.

Chargers requested permission to interview 49ers' DC Robert Saleh, who interviewed last night with the Falcons, per source.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 5, 2021

The Chargers have a good list of candidates going, and there’s a good amount of diversity in the group. Saleh only adds to that. He was a very hot name in the last cycle but unfortunately for him, the league continues to trend in an offensive direction more and more each year.

Saleh was a finalist for a few jobs last time around, but obviously, he wasn’t able to secure one. This might have been a blessing in disguise for him because his resume is much stronger this time around.

Saleh brings sixteen years of NFL coaching experience to the table, all of which has been on the defensive side of the ball. However, he did begin his career on the offensive side of the ball, while coaching tight ends at Michigan State.

His calling card over the years has been his ability to coach linebackers at a high level. His first NFL job was with the Houston Texans, where he worked with DeMeco Ryans (keep an eye on him as a coach in the next couple of seasons) and Brian Cushing.

Both of them earned Pro Bowl honors while he was their position coach. After leaving Houston, he joined the Seattle Seahawks staff where he helped develop KJ Wright, Bobby Wagner, and Malcolm Smith.

From Seattle, he followed Gus Bradley to Jacksonville where he worked with Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith. As the defensive coordinator for the 49ers, he’s helped develop Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw into one of the best linebacker duos in the league.

Everywhere he’s been, there has been palpable evidence of player development, specifically at the linebacker position – which is clearly his specialty. The ability to develop players like that is a big reason why he’s such a hot commodity in the coaching world.

He coached one of the best defenses in the league in 2019, and helped the 49ers earn another trip to the Super Bowl. That defense is one of the better and more talented defenses in recent memory. Led by Warner, Richard Sherman, Nick Bosa, and DeForrest Buckner. That group was the driving force behind their NFC winning team.

This season, Warner was really the only starter who remained healthy all season long. Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Ezekiel Ansah, Dee Ford, Jamar Taylor, and Richard Sherman all spent time on injured reserve this season. Despite all the injuries, Saleh was able to manage the defense well enough to be the league’s 5th best defense in terms of yards per game.

The concern for Chargers fans will naturally revolve around the scheme that Saleh runs on defense. It is in fact a variation of the famed Seattle cover three scheme. But it is not the same thing that Bradley has been running for the past few years.

Yes, it is heavy on the zone, but they mix upfronts and pressures quite a bit. In 2019, his defense was the fifth-best in the league in sacks. Including three from Warner.

The cause for hope, at least defensively would be that the Chargers and 49ers rosters share a lot of similarities. First and foremost, his history of developing linebackers should create a legitimate amount of excitement surrounding the potential of Kenneth Murray.

Secondly, he helped develop DeForrest Buckner into one of the best defensive tackles in the league and Jerry Tillery is very similar to Buckner in terms of physical profile.

Lastly, he’s been able to coach up both Jason Verrett and Sherman to be the best versions of themselves – despite their advanced age and injury history. This would suggest he could do the same for the twilight of Chris Harris and Casey Hayward’s careers as well.

There is still a notion that in order to get the most out of your young quarterback, you have to hire an offensive-minded head coach. I do not disagree with that notion, and in fact, I generally agree with it. Saleh is a little different here, though, because he will take the Shanahan offense with him wherever he ends up.

It’s widely assumed that Mike LaFleur – San Francisco’s passing game coordinator – will go with him to be his offensive coordinator. The Shanahan system, which relies heavily on moving the pocket for the quarterback, is perfect for Justin Herbert’s development.

The Chargers dabbled in that system this season, thanks to Anthony Lynn’s playing experience in Denver, but hiring Saleh would ensure that they would dive headfirst into that offense for the foreseeable future.

Saleh is touted both as a leader and as a talent developer. He’s one of the few candidates this cycle that doesn’t have legitimate question marks. It seems like he’s going to be interviewed for every vacancy, and he has absolutely earned that right.

Next. Head coach profile: Joe Brady

Let me know what your thoughts are on Saleh in the comments.