Robert Saleh was among the first people to call Ken Norton Jr. after he had been fired as Raiders defensive coordinator on Nov. 21.
Saleh worked under Norton for three seasons when they were on Pete Carroll’s staff with the Seattle Seahawks. Norton was the linebackers coach; Saleh was a quality control coach with an emphasis on linebackers.
This week, the 49ers hired Norton to serve under Saleh, the team’s defensive coordinator. Norton’s title is assistant head coach/inside linebackers.
“We have a fantastic relationship,” Norton said of Saleh during an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. “In Seattle, I was the linebacker coach and he was my assistant. So I kind of taught him the ropes.
“He has a great vision of how he wanted to do things. I have a vision about how I like to do things. He really appreciated the way I treated him, the things I’ve been able to show him. And now he’s blossomed into a defensive coordinator.”
Young linebacker Reuben Foster is gaining the influence of a veteran within his position group with the addition of Norton as his position coach.
Norton, 51, played 13 NFL seasons – the final seven of which came with the 49ers. He won three Super Bowls as a player (two with Dallas, and one with the 49ers).
“He (Saleh) made it clear that they have a young player similar to the Bruce (Irvin) situation -- very talented, can really do a lot of special things,” Norton said. “And there’s no person he’d like to teach him than myself.
“So we started with that as the initial conversation. Then, it went on to the head coach and the general manager. We kept the conversation going, and this is where it ended up.”
Norton said he has not watched much of Foster’s rookie season, but he studied him a year ago as he was coming out of Alabama and into the NFL draft. The 49ers made a trade with Seattle to move up to No. 31 overall, where they selected Foster.
“Fast, smart, productive, around the ball, passionate – all the things you expect good linebackers to do,” Norton said of Foster. “He hits really hard, really physical. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him and find out what his makeup is or why he plays or what his motivation is or the things he might have planned for his career.
“That’ll be interesting to see the type of man he is. But just from everything on the surface, it looks really good. But you never know. You can never judge a book by its cover. So you have to see what he’s made of and what his motivation is.”
Norton made his motivation clear: He intends to play a role in returning the 49ers to the same level he experienced as a player. In his first season after signing with the 49ers as a free agent in 1994, the club won the Super Bowl.
“San Francisco and I go back to the good ol' days, Jerry Rice and Steve Young and all the fantastic times we’ve had,” Norton said. “(I’m) really look forward to bringing the good ol’ days back. And the things they started with a young quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo) and with the juice and energy they put in that building, it’s really special to watch.”