At the start of his NFL career, Robert Saleh was the defensive quality control coach for the Houston Texans.
Later, he worked in the same role for the Seattle Seahawks.
Recently Saleh – now the defensive coordinator for the 49ers under new head coach Kyle Shanahan – told Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback that as a quality-control specialist, he had to master computer programs and pay attention to the small details that could make players and schemes work more efficiently.
“Even though I didn’t know much (about computers), I made it a point to figure it out,” he told Klemko. “That skill set helped me create a reputation of being very detailed and efficient, because the amount of work I could produce in the amount of time was different from other people.”
Now, in his first months with the 49ers, Saleh appears to be having the same impact.
This week, as 49ers players go through the latest round of organized team activities (OTAs), some of those players have talked about Saleh’s focus on every detail of their work. In fact, they say Saleh is using a motivational tool this offseason to keep his defenders constantly hustling and alert in on-field drills and in the film room.
They told Joe Fann of the team’s website that Saleh will call out “loafs” in front of the entire defensive unit when they’re watching practice film. If Saleh sees a player not hustling, not being able to shed a block or being knocked off his feet, Saleh counts it as a “loaf,” and it’s added to the “loaf” chart.
That, says linebacker Eli Haold, keeps every player in high gear. They want to stay off that chart.
“It makes guys work harder because everyone is watching,” Harold told Fann. “Everyone has a target on their back.”
Saleh and his staff are installing a new defensive scheme this offseason, a 4-3 alignment consistent with the Seahawks’ and Jaguars’ schemes he coached as an assistant.
Harold says Saleh is intense, but has made the transition enjoyable. Even keeping track of “loafs” is part of his detail-oriented approach.
“Coach Saleh does little things to get guys going,” Harold said. “He makes it fun. It’s all about having fun. At the end of the day, it’s a job, but you’ve got to have fun. You don’t want to go to work every day miserable.”
Saleh’s detailed approach is one of the things that impressed Shanahan during the interview process. Shanahan told Klemko that when they first met to discuss the defensive coordinator position, Saleh had put together a nine-month plan for the 49ers defense heading toward the 2017 season.
“He knew exactly what he wanted to do,” Shanahan said. “Mapped out from beginning to end. It was a fool-proof plan and you could tell he’s been thinking about it for a long time.”