DeForest Buckner is a huge fan of Robert Saleh but not just for what the coach does for his players between the white lines.
After leading the 49ers' defense for four seasons, Saleh left the Bay to become head coach of the New York Jets. Buckner played in Saleh's system for three of his four seasons with the 49ers before getting traded to the Indianapolis Colts last offseason.
The Pro Bowl defensive tackle knew Saleh's energy, teaching style and defensive scheme eventually would see him become a head coach. Buckner shared with NBC Sports Bay Area his thoughts on the AFC East's newest head coach.
“I’m beyond happy for Saleh and his family, with his head coaching opportunity with the Jets because it’s much deserved,” Buckner said. “I learned a lot throughout the three years I played for him.”
Under Saleh, Buckner flourished receiving a Pro Bowl nod in 2018, a season where he racked up 12 sacks, 67 total tackles (44 solo and 17 for a loss). The ex-49ers defensive tackle also racked up 34 pressures, 20 quarterback hits and broke up two passes.
Saleh’s ability to get the most out of his players doesn’t stop with the technique. Buckner found his bond with his defensive coordinator went much further than that.
“With Saleh, it’s not just about football and the Xs and Os,” Buckner said. “He wants to teach you about life and build a relationship to get to know you personally. Which is why it was so easy to play for him.
“Yes, he is a phenomenal coach who will make the right adjustments throughout a game and always put you in position to succeed, but it’s his ability to connect with you and have you fired up and ready to play, week in and week out, no matter the circumstances.”
Buckner, like Richard Sherman, believes that Saleh deserved more credit than he received in the 49ers' run to Super Bowl LIV. The level of talent on the 49ers' defense, including Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Arik Armstead and Buckner himself overshadowed the work the coach did.
With many of the team’s key players on injured reserve for the majority of the season, Saleh still produced a very stout defense. The 49ers ranked fourth in yards allowed per game (314.4), second in red zone scores per game (1.6) and fifth in yards per play (5.0).
“You saw it this year,” Buckner said. “He was challenged with all the injuries they had on defense and still managed to finish the year with a top 5 defense. The Jets are very lucky to be getting a man like Robert Saleh as their new head coach.”