Reuben Foster, meet Ken Norton Jr.
Foster, the 49ers’ standout rookie inside linebacker of this past season, will now be tutored by former 49ers’ standout linebacker Norton. Norton, a longtime coach since his retirement from the Niners in 2000, has been announced as San Francisco’s assistant head coach and inside linebackers coach.
Norton most recently was defensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders until his firing during the 2017 season. Before Oakland, Norton was linebackers coach for the Seattle Seahawks, working with current 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Norton also was an assistant coach at USC under Pete Carroll.
Now, the 49ers are banking that Norton, who played seven seasons for the 49ers and went to two Pro Bowls and was first-team All-Pro with the team, can help Foster grow.
“Ken brings a great deal of knowledge and experience to our team having spent more than two decades as an NFL player and coach,” said head coach Kyle Shanahan in a statement released by the team. “Throughout his coaching career, Ken has developed a tremendous understanding of our defensive system, making him a perfect fit for our staff.”
Saleh’s defensive scheme is similar to the one used in Seattle. Last year, Saleh told the San Francisco Chronicle Norton was a big influence on how he coaches.
“(He) had a huge impact for me in his love for the players,” Saleh said. “And making sure the players understand that you love them. It’s not coach vs. player. We’re all one.”
By joining the 49ers, Norton will reunite with linebacker Malcolm Smith from Seattle and Oakland. The 49ers signed Smith last offseason as a free agent, but Smith missed all of 2017 because of an injury.
The 49ers also announced Johnny Holland, former linebackers coach, will become the team’s run-game specialist and outside linebackers coach. Former strength and conditioning coach Michael Clay will become a special teams assistant coach.
General manager John Lynch tweeted Monday he is excited by the moves and cited Norton’s winning history. Norton won three Super Bowls as a player with the 49ers and Cowboys and one as a Seahawks coach.
“So fired up about this!,” Lynch wrote. “Kenny is a huge get and brings championship pedigree to us! Congrats Ken and to Johnny Holland and Michael Clay on their well earned promotions! #brickbybrick.”