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Detroit Lions head coaching search: Robert Saleh emerges as logical favorite

Saleh has the best Vegas odds to be the Lions’ next coach, but it also makes way too much sense.

San Francisco 49ers Training Camp Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

It’s far too early to know who exactly will be serious candidates for the Detroit Lions’ head coaching job in 2021. It’s clear that owner Sheila Ford Hamp wants to take her time with this, and there’s also a general manager position to fill, as well. Also, there happens to be five weeks left in the regular season. In other words, we’re probably at least a month off from hearing any real rumors or progress in the search.

However, that hasn’t stopped anyone from speculating on the Lions’ next coach. Of course, the oddsmakers were right on it from the minute Matt Patricia was sent his walking papers. Sportsbook BetOnline.Ag was one of the first to drop their Lions head coaching odds, and here’s a look at the top five candidates:

Robert Saleh: 11/2
Eric Bieniemy: 6/1
Lincoln Riley: 13/2
Jim Harbaugh: 7/1
Kellen Moore: 15/2

While there are some ridiculous names on this list—I can’t imagine even the Lions would be as tone deaf to consider Harbaugh considering what’s happening in Ann Arbor now—the inclusion of 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is no exercise in dart throwing. By many accounts, he appears to be a very logical pick for the Lions, and several analysts have already come out and said it.

NFL of FOX’s Peter Schrager came out on Sunday and noted all of the local ties that would make the Lions job quite attractive to Saleh.

“Saleh has some real roots in the state of Michigan. He was born and raised in Dearborn, two miles from the facility. You see everything here. He grew up idolizing Barry Sanders, played at Northern Michigan University, went to Michigan State for a master’s degree, also coached at Michigan State, and his family is all still there.

He’s also Lebanese, the son of two folks from Lebanon. And that is the largest Middle Eastern population outside of the Middle East is in those Detroit suburbs.”

As for his skills as a coach, after the 49ers held the Los Angeles Rams to just 13 points on offense and 308 total yards in a winning effort, San Francisco cornerback Richard Sherman sung Saleh’s praises for his defensive efforts all year.

“You’ve got to give coach Saleh, you’ve got to give Robert Saleh an abundance of credit,” Sherman said in his postgame press conference (watch here). “You have to give him an unusual amount of credit, and I don’t think he’s getting enough credit not only here but in the league, in general.”

Later adding that despite the abundance of injuries, he’s still managed to not only keep this defense’s head above water, but allow it to thrive.

“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 that never had an injury, never had any adversity, and they’re not putting out a top-five defense.

“He’s not making any excuses. He’s making great plans week in and week out, and we’re making it happen. 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.”

Note: You may remember Sherman specifically choosing not to play in Detroit because of Matt Patricia’s toxic culture.

Our friends over at 49ers blog Niners Nation also talked about the potential of losing Saleh to Detroit, something writer Kyle Posey called the “worst-case scenario for the 49ers.” Here’s why:

The Lions fired their general manager Bob Quinn. They’ll also need someone to call the offense. Saleh could pluck Adam Peters, the current Vice President of Personnel for the Niners, to be his GM in Detroit along with Mike McDaniel. The latter has been the genius behind the 49ers running game as offensive coordinator. That’d give the Lions a powerful combo that would be difficult to top.

MMQB’s Albert Breer took notice of Saleh’s performance on Sunday, and immediately linked it to the Lions:

Like Posey, Breer wrote a column in which he also linked 49ers Vice President of Personnel Adam Peters to Detroit along with Saleh.

And bringing in someone like Dearborn native/49ers DC Robert Saleh and pairing him with a prospective GM he’s familiar with (like Indy’s Ed Dodds or San Francisco’s Adam Peters) would just be where the work would begin on that.

So Saleh would bring a much better personality as a team leader than the Lions’ predecessor. He’s been able to do more with less talent. He’s got motivation to come to Detroit and turn around the franchise he grew up miles from. And he could potentially bring in branches from Kyle Shanahan’s well-respected offensive tree and maybe even help solve Detroit’s general manager vacancy. It would be a little strange to target a head coach first, but it is not at all uncharted territory, as the Browns did it as recently as last year.

Put it all together, and he’s certainly a worthy front-runner.

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.