Robert Saleh: Detroit "still means a lot to me." Will the Lions bring him home?


The last question is the big one, but a few others come first.

Will the Lions consider 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh for their head coaching vacancy this offseason? Will they decide to make him an offer? Will Saleh have other offers on the table?

If the answers are yes, the big question is this: will Robert Saleh come home?

"He has to get the Detroit job," 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said last week after the Lions fired Matt Patricia. "Homegrown."

Saleh isn't a potential candidate for the job because he was born and raised in Dearborn. He's a potential candidate because he's a hell of a coach. He took over a 49ers defense that ranked last in the NFL in 2016. Here's where it ranked the next three years: 24th, 13th, 2nd. It ranks 6th this year, despite scads of injuries to key players.

But the Detroit ties don't hurt, especially when they remain so strong. Saleh, 41, said last year in an interview with 97.1 The Ticket that his "entire family" still lives in Dearborn.

"My mom’s side, my dad’s side, everyone’s still there, all my friends. I still keep track of Fordson High School during the playoffs," he said of his alma mater.

He added that he comes home for at least a month every summer with his wife and six children.

"My kids love it there," he said. "So it’s still very much a part of our lives."

The Lions, not so much. Not anymore. Saleh understandably "got detached" from the team once he entered the NFL coaching ranks in 2005, as a defensive intern with the Texans. But his list of football heroes growing up still starts with Barry Sanders.

"My friends are diehard Lions fans, and my family obviously, they’re still a bunch of Lions fans, so they’re connected," said Saleh.

It might behoove the Lions to hire a head coach, and/or a general manager, who
understands their past. Who grasps the challenge of turning this franchise around. Who relates to their fans because he's been one himself. Appreciate the history to change the future -- that sort of thing.

Again, Saleh's coaching acumen is what matters most. Patricia didn't fail here because he wasn't from here -- although a little more humility entering the job would have helped. He failed because he wasn't up to the task of being an NFL head coach.

Maybe Saleh's different, maybe he isn't. The Lions will have to make that decision themselves. (Oh boy.) He'd certainly be an easy coach to root for. His path to the NFL ran straight through Michigan, from his playing days at Fordson High and Northern Michigan, to his first coaching gigs at Michigan State and Central Michigan. He's been gone for several years, but Saleh still means a lot to Detroit.

"It still means a lot to me," he said. "Shoot, I brag about the city of Dearborn all the time. Fordson High School, brag about it all the time. People are like, ‘Why are you still attached to your high school?’ Because there’s nothing like it, man. No, I’m still very much attached."