49ers' Robert Saleh explains what makes successful NFL head coach

Matt Maiocco
·3 min read

What 49ers' Saleh believes makes successful NFL head coach originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Robert Saleh might have provided a window Thursday into any job interviews he might have in the near future for vacant NFL head-coaching positions.

The 49ers’ defensive coordinator, a finalist for the Cleveland Browns' opening last year, is likely to be one of the top head coach candidates this offseason.

And he certainly will be asked to outline his plan to establish high-level consistency on the offensive side of the ball.

“Offense, defense, special teams, it doesn’t matter,” Saleh said. “It’s the mindset of the person in charge that creates an atmosphere in which players compete and players fight for one another, and players have a genuine love for one another. And that’s what this building represents."

The 49ers’ Week 17 opponent is an example of what Saleh will attempt to achieve if he lands a head-coaching job. The 49ers will finish the season against the NFC West-champion Seattle Seahawks in Glendale, Arizona.

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The Seahawks under head coach Pete Carroll routinely rank in the top-third of offenses in the NFL. Carroll's entire coaching background is on the defensive side of the ball.

It helps, of course, to have a quarterback such as Russell Wilson. But it goes much further than that, Saleh said. Carroll and general manager John Schneider have tapped into something more basic.

“The way people speak to one another,” said Saleh, who spent three seasons as a Seahawks assistant coach. “The way people treat one another in that building and what Pete and John Schneider have done. Just from a philosophical standpoint to create a culture where there’s a genuine respect and what each person is being asked to do.”

Saleh said it is his belief that people spend too much time on the labels of whether a head coach comes from an offensive or defensive background. He cites 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan as an example.

“I think what people miss, Kyle Shanahan is an unbelievable leader in regards to tying an organization together with one vision,” Saleh said. “There is a toughness. There is a mindset. We’re a team that will stand in the middle of the ring with anybody, and punch and punch and punch until the final bell rings.

“That’s because of the mindset he brings day-in and day-out; the mindset of the players, day-in and day-out.”

Saleh is widely regarded as having done a better job this season in leading the team's defense through all of the injuries than he did even a year ago when the 49ers marched to the Super Bowl.

Being a competent coordinator and calling plays is one thing. But being the leader of a team -- a CEO, of sorts -- requires a different skillset, Saleh said.

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“Look at a guy like Kyle Shanahan, sure he’s offensive, but the man’s a leader," Saleh said. "The way he communicates with one another, all of us, the way he communications with John and vice versa.

“And the expectations and the standards he has are why he’s an unbelievable head coach. It’s not because he’s a good play-caller, it’s because of what he represents as a leader. And the way he communicates with us.”

And there also has to be symbiosis at the top of an organization, like what Carroll has with Schneider and what Shanahan has with 49ers general manager John Lynch.

Regardless of what system a team runs on offense and defense, Saleh said the blueprint is something that he had witnessed during his four seasons with the 49ers.

"Scheme is always going to evolve, but when you just look at the way teams run themselves," Saleh said, "when you look at Kyle and John, to me they are the, in my eyes, they're the standard."