Players aren’t alone in wanting to prove themselves to the 49ers’ new regime headlined by head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.
The same goes for Robert Saleh, 38, their rookie defensive coordinator who first became a position coach in 2014. Saleh wasn’t the 49ers’ first choice for the job: They turned to him after former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley decided to become the Chargers defensive coordinator and Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio couldn’t get out of his contract.
When I recently spoke with Saleh for a feature story that will run during training camp, I asked him about not being the top candidate for the job.
“I wasn’t the first choice, but that’s OK,” Saleh said. “That never concerns me. It’s like you look at a football player: ‘You were the seventh-round pick. Well, now what? You were an undrafted free agent. Well, now what?’
“It doesn’t bother me that I wasn’t the first choice. We have the opportunity now. So now what? The focus is on proving (head coach) Kyle (Shanahan) right. And proving the organization right. And doing everything I can to make good on their decision.”
After Bradley, one of his mentors, chose the Chargers over the 49ers, Saleh was ready to join his defensive staff in Los Angeles. Saleh had spent five of the previous six seasons working with Bradley, including the last three as Jacksonville’s linebackers coach. He said he didn’t know if Bradely recommended hiom for the job with the 49ers.
“When (Bradley) decided to go to Los Angeles, I was set to go,” Saleh said. “It was pretty much done before all this (with the 49ers) started coming up.”
With the 49ers, Saleh inherits a defense that ranked 32nd in the NFL last year and allowed the most yards, points and rushing yards in franchise history.
It’s a big job for anyone, let alone a rookie defensive coordinator. Given his inexperience, and the bigger names the 49ers didn’t land, is Saleh even more motivated to prove he’s the right man for the job?
“My focus is to be the best I can every single day, regardless of circumstance,” Saleh said. “To allow external motivation to generate production is a formula that’s doomed for failure.”