49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is expected to be in high demand this coming offseason for one of several head coach openings around the NFL, and San Francisco's impressive 20-12 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday certainly will do nothing to diminish that.
Facing one of the best offenses in the league, led by a quarterback that previously has caused them tremendous problems, the 49ers limited Arizona to an average of just 4.4 yards per play and forced two turnovers. They held Kyler Murray to just 230 yards passing with no touchdowns and one interception, and sacked him three times.
Pro Bowl linebacker Fred Warner, arguably the best player on Saleh's defense, had a tremendous game against the Cardinals, leading all players with 14 total tackles and three pass deflections. He also had a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Afterward, he had high praise for the man in charge, in which he called Saleh "the best DC in the league" (h/t 49ers Webzone).
"I've got so much respect for that guy," Warner said of Saleh. "He's just such a smart mind and on top of that, knowing exactly what he wants, exactly what he wants out of us. He makes it crystal clear for everyone."
"Love that guy," Warner added. "I know he's going to be a great head coach one day soon. We've got one more game to put some good stuff on tape."
The 49ers' season will conclude next week with a matchup against the rival Seattle Seahawks, and there's a good chance that will be Saleh's last game as San Francisco's defensive coordinator. Head coach Kyle Shanahan is very confident Saleh is prepared to be a head coach.
"The injuries we've had throughout the year, being able to adjust, just where we've come here in these three years, Saleh was ready for this year, big time," Shanahan said after the win. "He's been through almost every situation in our four years, and for our defense to play at the level that they have throughout this all says a lot about him, a ton about his staff, and a ton about all those players."
If Saleh does get a head-coaching job this offseason as many expect, the 49ers will have to find someone to replace him. It's certainly possible San Francisco could turn to an external candidate, but Shanahan hinted that the solution could come from within.
"As I keep saying, I hope I don't lose Saleh, but we've got a bunch of good coaches on this staff, and we'll decide that here," Shanahan added. "I guess we've got about eight days left, so we'll see how it ends up."
Next Sunday will close the book on the 49ers' season, and very well might be the end of Saleh's story with San Francisco, too.