SANTA CLARA — It was impossible to turn on a sports television show or log onto social media without seeing defensive coordinator Robert Saleh fist pumping after the 49ers' 20-7 win Sunday over the Rams.
It might be a new thing for fans to see, but players say he’s been this passionate as long as they’ve known him.
“That’s probably the first time you guys have caught it, but he’s always losing his mind,” 49ers defensive back K’waun Williams told NBC Sports Bay Area. “It’s normal. We’re used to it by now. He’s always had that great energy.”
After Sunday’s game in Los Angeles, Saleh admitted that he gets so excited during huge defensive plays that he momentarily loses all sense of time.
“I’m not going to lie, I black out during those moments,” Saleh said. “I get excited for the guys and their success. When they make big plays, I feel like I’m right there with them. When we fail, I’m right there with them too. So, we’re always together.”
The 49ers defense has dominated through five games. Saleh is now being mentioned as a possible future head coach candidate, when just months ago, football pundits said his job could be in jeopardy.
Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman isn’t surprised in the quick change of public opinion, he’s seen it before.
“It’s football,” Sherman said. “That’s how quickly things can change. He was a good coach before, even when they were scapegoating him. You can’t scheme for everything. You can’t scheme for injuries and mental mistakes and that’s what was happening out there.”
In 2018, the 49ers defense had a record-low takeaway percentage and earned reputation of giving up huge chunk plays to opponents. Sherman said that wasn’t because of a change in Saleh, it was just mental mistakes by individuals trying to do too much, trying to save the day.
“That’s what I appreciate about this year is that all we are doing is what he is telling us to do,” Sherman said. “We’re just playing the scheme that he calls. If last year everyone would have just played the scheme that he called, we would have been a top-eight defense in terms of yardage gained, red zone percentage and third downs because it’s Saleh.
“It’s a good scheme and he knows how to call a game."
Maybe it’s a little more maturity from what was a young roster over the past two seasons. Maybe it’s trust that’s grown between the players knowing that everyone will simply take care of their responsibilities instead of trying to be a hero.
Regardless of what has shifted to change the trajectory of the 49ers defense, the players expect to see that same enthusiastic Saleh losing his mind on the sidelines.
“That just shows the passion and the love he has for our guys when we’re out there executing which is great," Williams said. “He’s been the same. The scheme is the same. It’s just that everybody is on their job and we’re just clicking on all cylinders. I guess we’re just seeing the dividends payoff now.”