At the ends of Robert Saleh’s first two seasons as 49ers defensive coordinator, coach Kyle Shanahan had to take a stand.
With some calling for Saleh’s job, Shanahan was put in a position where he had to state that he was sticking with Saleh for at least another season.
Yes, that actually happened.
The last two seasons, Saleh’s importance to the 49ers became obvious to everyone.
And, now, any suggestion Saleh did not have what it took to successfully run an NFL defense looks absurd.
The New York Jets on Thursday night announced the organization had reached an agreement in principle with Saleh to become their new head coach.
Shanahan braced for losing Saleh a year ago. Now, it’s a reality.
Saleh becomes the first 49ers assistant coach to land an NFL head-coaching job since defensive line coach Jim Tomsula (2015) and Mike Singletary (2009), both of whom received their promotions with the 49ers.
He is the first 49ers assistant to become a head coach with another organization since Norv Turner (2007, San Diego Chargers) and Mike McCarthy (2006, Green Bay Packers).
Saleh was a finalist for the Cleveland Browns’ head-coaching job last year. He and then-Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski were the finalists.
One day after Saleh’s defense whipped Stefanski’s offense in a playoff game, 27-10, the Browns hired Stefanski to be their next head coach.
On Thursday, Saleh got the 1-in-100 million opportunity he so richly deserves.
And the good news for the 49ers is that Saleh was so good at his job, he did not leave them in a bad position.
And we’re not even taking about the two third-round compensatory draft picks the 49ers are set to receive this year and next for developing a minority head coach.
Saleh not only molded players and gave them the support they needed to play fast and do their jobs exceptionally well.
He did the same for the position coaches under him.
DeMeco Ryans has long been considered the top on-staff candidate to take over as 49ers defensive coordinator if Saleh were to leave.
The reason Shanahan did not seem too stressed if Saleh were to leave is because he knew he already had his replacement on the staff.
Ryans is young in coaching years, but long on NFL experience. He played 10 seasons in the NFL. He played under Saleh. He coached under Saleh.
Ryans’ touch helped develop Fred Warner into an All-Pro player. His tutelage of Dre Greenlaw, a fifth-round pick in 2019, made high-priced Kwon Alexander expendable.
Shanahan said last week that Ryans would become a defensive coordinator.
Shanahan said Ryans, at some point, will become an NFL head coach.
It is obvious if Shanahan saw Ryans as a future defensive coordinator who was destined to be a head coach, he sure as hell was not going to let him be a defensive coordinator with some other team.
And that might be Saleh’s greatest legacy of all with the 49ers.
Yes, Saleh did a fine job in his role with the 49ers over the past four seasons. And he did not take everything with him.
Saleh left enough of himself behind for everyone else who remains with the 49ers to continue to grow, improve and thrive.