SANTA CLARA – San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh received some bad news on Sunday, as the Cleveland Browns decided to go in another direction for their next head coach.
Meanwhile, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan did not even pretend to act disappointed for his top assistant.
“I was pumped,” Shanahan said Monday.
And he certainly was not kidding, either.
“I heard it on the way into work, so I was extremely excited,” Shanahan said of the news the Browns hired former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. “I definitely have some empathy for Saleh. Anyone who goes through that process and stuff, we’re all competitive and want to win and you want to get that opportunity.”
Shanahan said every year he is able to retain Saleh on his coaching staff will be a bonus.
“Saleh will be a head coach in this league, could’ve been one this year,” Shanahan said. “Most likely, he’ll be one next year. But he’s going to have the right opportunity come around for him. It’s just a matter of time. Just very happy we’re going to have him, going into next year.”
Shanahan stuck behind Saleh through two bad seasons. He never wavered from his belief that Saleh was the right man for the job. His confidence in the team’s defensive system and structure paid off this season, as the 49ers’ defense led the club to the NFC Championship Game on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium.
The Browns' final decision reportedly came down to Saleh and Stefanski. Saleh's defense got the better of Stefanski's Vikings offense in a 27-10 victory in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs on Saturday. One day later, Stefanski got the job.
As for his excitement that Saleh was passed over in favor of Stefanski, Shanahan said he has nothing to hide from Saleh.
“He knows me well enough to know how I am, but I’m definitely excited he didn’t get it – not just for selfish reasons, because I care a lot about this organization, too,” Shanahan said, wryly. “So it definitely helps me, but it helps this whole organization. And I think it’ll help Saleh in the long run.
“He’s going to be a head coach. He just needs the right opportunity and he’s going to keep getting better and better, too.”
Shanahan said his mind has been preoccupied with the current season, so he did not put a succession plan in place to account for the possibility of losing Saleh.
“It would’ve been very hard,” Shanahan said. “There are definitely guys on our staff I have a lot of confidence in. That’s stuff is always in the back of my head but I have a lot of other stuff right now.
“It’s something I put in a box and tied up and put it away and thought we’ll deal with that when the season ended. And now I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that. So maybe we’ll talk next year about that.”