March 9, 2021

Robert Saleh leaves 49ers’ post to become New York Jets head coach

Robert Saleh, after a four-year ascent as the 49ers defensive coordinator, is heading to New York to become the next head coach of the Jets.

The Jets announced Saleh’s hiring on Thursday evening.

Coach Kyle Shanahan had long braced for Saleh’s departure and supported his initiation into the head-coaching fraternity. Shanahan said last Monday he’s not too stressed about finding a replacement, and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said Thursday the 49ers are expected to promote linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans to the defensive coordinator job.

The 49ers also are likely to need a replacement for Mike LaFleur, their passing game coordinator. He is expected to follow Saleh to New York as the Jets’ offensive coordinator.

Saleh had interviewed with his hometown Detroit Lions and also the Atlanta Falcons, but he returned to New York this week for a second interview with Jets brass. The Jacksonville Jaguars and the Los Angeles Chargers also sought to speak with him for their openings, a year after Saleh was a Cleveland Browns finalist amid the 49ers’ playoff run to Super Bowl LIV.

The Jets own the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft after finishing with a 2-14 record under second-year head coach Adam Gase, who was fired at the end of the season. The team set to pick ahead of New York, the Jacksonville Jaguars, announced the hiring of former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer on Thursday.

Saleh inherits a Jets team that had the 12th-best rushing defense in the NFL this season, but the 28th-worst passing defense. Aside from shoring up the side of the ball he’ll be responsible for, Saleh will also play a role in determining the future of the Jets offense.

It’s unclear whether Saleh will want to retain starting quarterback Sam Darnold, but if the new head coach wants to trade the former USC star and start from scratch on offense, the 49ers have been rumored as a possible destination for Darnold.

Saleh’s four-year term at his 49ers post began as a surprise hire by Shanahan. Frustrated 49ers fans clamored for Saleh’s ouster his first two seasons as a defensive coordinator, only to have coach Shanahan firmly back Saleh.

“I know what he can handle with his personality and how smart he is, and that’s a lot,” Shanahan said after the 2018 season. “Saleh’s done a good job and he will only get better.”