ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- As the Detroit Lions search for their next general manager and head coach, team owner Sheila Ford Hamp said she plans on looking everywhere and is open to a multitude of ideas.
One of the more intriguing candidates she might look at is someone who has known about the Lions for a long time: San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
Yes, there is the obvious local connection for Saleh, who grew up in Dearborn, Michigan -- a town away from the Lions’ practice facility in Allen Park -- and Saleh still has family in the area. That’s a nice side story and something that, if the Lions were to hire him, would assuredly play well in his initial introduction to the gig.
But that’s not the reason why he should be a candidate for the Detroit job. It’s instead the work that he’s done and the way his players vouch for him. Consider 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, who has seen Saleh work in multiple stops -- as a coordinator in San Francisco and as a defensive quality control coach in Seattle at the beginning of Sherman’s career.
He’s watched Saleh has grow. And if you’re looking for an endorsement, well, Sherman delivered, after the 49ers beat the Rams on Sunday.
“You’ve got to give coach Saleh an abundance of credit, you have to give him an unusual amount of credit and I don’t think he’s getting enough credit, not only here but the league in general,” Sherman told reporters on Sunday. “To have the injuries that we’ve had week after week after week.
“He never makes an excuse. And statistically we’re still a top-five defense in almost every category. There are guys out there with Pro Bowlers, All-Pros, never had injury, never had any adversity and they are not putting out a top-five defense. He’s not making excuses. He’s making great plans week-in and week-out and we’re making it happen and I think, I expect him to be a head coach next year because of what he’s able to do. He’s able to rally men. He’s a leader of men and that goes a long way.”
San Francisco has been without Dee Ford, Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas on the defensive line for most of the year. Dre Greenlaw missed two games. Sherman missed most of the season so far and they’ve been without starter Jarquiski Tartt, too.
And yet, the 49ers are sixth in yards per game allowed (315.2), 10th in rushing yards per game allowed (108.7) and fourth in passing yards per game allowed (206.5). They’ve also allowed just 21.82 offensive points per game, 11th in the league.
Saleh’s also a coach who's been through multiple systems -- Pete Carroll’s in Seattle, Kyle Shanahan's in San Francisco, Gus Bradley's in Jacksonville and Gary Kubiak's in Houston just within the NFL and a combination of Brian Kelly, Bobby Williams, John L. Smith and Mark Richt in college. That could offer a diversity of viewpoints from him as well, which could be attractive to the Lions.
Without head-coaching experience, it’s an unknown how someone will do in the new role, but Saleh’s resume, and testimony from Sherman would suggest Saleh to be a candidate worth talking to.
Saleh also has ties to multiple potential general manager candidates, including San Francisco vice president of player personnel Adam Peters, Indianapolis assistant general manager Ed Dodds, Seattle vice president of football operations Scott Fitterer and Seattle vice president of player personnel Trent Kirchner.