Robert Saleh Becomes Only Fourth Minority Head Coach in the NFL

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is set to become the fourth minority head coach in the NFL after reaching an agreement in principle to fill the head coaching vacancy at the New York Jets.

ESPN and NFL Network both reported Saleh will sign a five-year deal with the Jets and that he is expected to bring 49ers passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur—the brother of Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur—to New Jersey.

Saleh, who is Lebanese American, becomes the fourth minority head coach in the NFL along with Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Flores of the Miami Dolphins and Ron Rivera of the Washington Football Team.

His hire keeps the number of minority coaches in the NFL unchanged from the current season after the Los Angeles Chargers fired Anthony Lynn earlier this month.

In May last year, the NFL expanded the so-called Rooney Rule to require clubs to interview at least two external minority candidates for head coach openings and at least one minority candidate for any coordinator job, as well as for senior football operations and general manager vacancies.

Among the revisions to the Rooney Rule, the NFL agreed teams that help develop minority coaches and executives should be rewarded with additional draft picks and as a result of Saleh's hire the 49ers will receive two third-round compensatory draft picks.

The adjustments to the Rooney Rule came in the wake of another hiring cycle where minority candidate were largely overlooked. As of May last year, only three of the past 20 head coach job openings were filled by a minority candidate.

Along with Saleh, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy and Atlanta Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris are the only two other minority candidates to have been interviewed for head coaching vacancies in the current hiring cycle with five positions still to fill—the Chargers, Falcons, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles are all still looking for a new head coach.

A defensive assistant at Michigan State, Central Michigan and Georgia, Saleh has been in the NFL for 15 years but the Jets will be his first head coaching job. ESPN and NFL Network both reported the 41-year-old received interview requests from six teams looking for a new head coach but swiftly established himself as the frontrunner for the Jets job, after holding a virtual interview with the franchise last week and then flying in on Tuesday for further talks.

The Jets reportedly interviewed nine candidates for the position, including eight current NFL assistants and Marvin Lewis, the former Cincinnati Bengals head coach who is currently the co-defensive coordinator at Arizona State.

Saleh's stock has risen sharply throughout his four seasons as the 49ers defensive coordinator, during which he gradually turned one of the NFL's worst defenses into one of the five best units in the league.

In 2018, the 49ers ranked 19th in total yards allowed per game, last in takeaways and 28th in points allowed before improving to second, sixth and eighth respectively the following season as San Francisco reached Super Bowl LIV, only to lose to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Despite several injuries, the 49ers defense ranked fifth in yards allowed and 17th in scoring this season.

The Jets, meanwhile, finished ranked 26th in points allowed, 24th in yards allowed and takeaways last season. Gang Green finished with 2-14 record, the second-worst in the NFL behind only the Jacksonville Jaguars and now hold the second overall pick in the NFL Draft.

In two seasons under Adam Gase, the Jets won just nine games and their former head coach was fired immediately after the end of the regular season.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh
Robert Saleh, defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, looks on against the Kansas City Chiefs during the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on February 2, 2020 in Miami, Florida. Saleh became the new head coach of the New York Jets on Thursday. Tom Pennington/Getty