The 49ers have settled on Jaguars linebackers coach Robert Saleh as their new defensive coordinator, according to multiple reports.
Saleh, whom the Chargers were hoping to add to their defensive staff, is familiar to new 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan after having spent the 2006-09 seasons on the Houston Texans staff.
The 49ers initially were curious about bringing back former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. However, they were rebuffed by the Chicago Bears with whom Fangio is under contract for another year. It’s unknown whether the team might pursue Fangio again next season when his contract with the Bears expires.
Saleh’s hire means that for the second consecutive season, the 49ers will pair a relatively inexperienced defensive coordinator with an offensive-minded head coach.
Jim O’Neil, 38, had been a defensive coordinator under a defensive head coach in Cleveland for two seasons upon being hired by San Francisco in 2016. The 49ers finished last in the NFL in total defense this past season and set franchise records in points allowed, total yards allowed and rushing yards allowed.
Saleh, 38, spent the 2011-13 seasons as the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive quality control coach – an entry-level NFL position – under then defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. After Bradley left to coach the Jaguars, Saleh followed, and last month he was expected to join Bradley again on his Chargers’ defensive staff.
Bradley is associated with a 4-3 defense while the 49ers have spent the past few seasons in a base 3-4 that changes to a four-down-linemen alignment when they are in their nickel configuration. It’s unknown which scheme Saleh will use with the 49ers, who are missing pieces to run either system. Two prominent players who were injured for most of 2016, linebacker NaVorro Bowman and defensive lineman Arik Armstead, are expected to return to full health for the 2017 season.
Under Saleh the Jaguars had two linebackers, Paul Posluzny and Telvin Smith, finish with more than 100 tackles in 2016. Jacksonville ranked sixth in total defense.
The 49ers also are expected to add Jeff Zgonina as defensive line coach and to retain last season’s outside linebacker’s coach, Jason Tarver, and secondary coach, Jeff Hafley.
The team on Monday announced three more hires on offense: wide receivers coach Mike LaFleur, run-game specialist Mike McDaniel and quality control coach Taylor Embree. LaFleur and McDaniel worked under Shanahan with the Falcons during the last two seasons. Embree is the son of assistant head coach/tight ends coach Jon Embree.