CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns have interviewed five men for their head coaching vacancy with reportedly at least two more candidates to meet with the search committee of owner Jimmy Haslam, chief strategist Paul DePodesta and executives Chris Cooper and JW Johnson.
While there are installed favorites for the Browns’ next coach, including offensive coordinators Josh McDaniels (New England Patriots) and Kevin Stefanski (Minnesota Vikings), an unheralded contender apparently has made the search a little more interesting.
According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the interview with San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh “went very well” because he “had good football and staff ideas.”
Fowler further reported the Browns are “leaving room to be swayed.”
Saleh is a 15-year coaching veteran, the last three of which have been as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator.
Saleh, a native of Dearborn, Michigan, is well-travelled with experience at both the collegiate and professional levels. Following his playing career at Northern Michigan University, Saleh worked as an assistant on both sides of the ball at Michigan State before moving onto Central Michigan, making a brief stop at the University of Georgia, and then, onto the NFL.
Saleh began his NFL career with the Houston Texans, first as an intern (2005), and then, defensive assistant (2006-2008) and assistant linebackers coach (2009-2010).
Then, Saleh became a defensive quality coach with the Seattle Seahawks (2011-2013) before moving on to lead the Jacksonville Jaguars’ linebackers (2014-2016), and then, joining San Francisco’s staff.
Saleh has worked with a “Who’s Who” of talented players, particularly at the defense’s second level: linebacker.
During his time in Houston, linebackers DeMeco Ryans (2006) and Brian Cushing (2009) were named AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, while Jaguars playmaking defender Paul Posluszny returned from a season-ending injury in 2014 to become the NFL’s fifth-leading tackler with 133 total stops in 2015.
Also, with the Seahawks, Saleh worked with standout linebackers K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner and Super Bowl XLVIII Most Valuable Player Malcolm Smith.
In 2019, Saleh led a defense with five first-round picks along the front seven and they proved to be effective pass rushers.
The 2019 49ers finished with the league’s second-best overall defense, having allowed 281.8 total yards per game, and statistically, were the best against the pass, surrendering just 169.2 yards per game.
The 49ers generated 48 sacks in 16 regular-season games, an average of three per game, which was good enough to tie for the fifth-best total in the entire NFL and fourth-best showing in the National Football Conference.
Four defenders finished 2019 with at least 6.5 sacks, led by 10 from lineman Arik Armstead, 9.0 from end Nick Bosa, 7.5 from tackle DeForest Buckner and 6.5 from end Dee Ford, who was limited to 11 games and just two starts this season because of injury.