AFTERSHOCK
Niner Report|March 2021
As if the 49ers didn’t already lose enough during their tortured 2020 season.
Craig Massei

Staff shakeup follows disappointing season

They lost their throne as NFC champions, lost their new aura of a young powerhouse on the rise and lost a dizzying avalanche of players to injury or the Reserve/COVID-19 list during a jinxed season that saw San Francisco have a franchise-record and NFL-high 85 players play snaps for the team during the year.

And then the 49ers lost much more, with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh leaving the team in mid-January, setting off a domino series of events that reworked San Francisco’s coaching staff and saw other key assistants leave the team.

Typically, staff shakeups in the NFL happen after 6-10 seasons because changes are deemed necessary after a poor year and the firing of individual assistants are the result. But the most dramatic changes in coach Kyle Shanahan’s staff came as a result of the team’s success, both recent and in seasons past, as Saleh and former passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur both were hired for high-profile positions that took them to the New York Jets.

Four other former San Francisco assistants also followed Saleh to New York. Former offensive line coach John Benton, former defensive backs/cornerbacks coach Tony Oden, former assistant defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton and former defensive passing game specialist Mike Rutenberg also hopped on the Saleh train to New York with enhanced coaching titles.

In addition, Martin Mayhew — a key frontoffice figure during the Shanahan/John Lynch regime — also left the 49ers for a higher-profile position with the Washington Redskins, setting off a ripple of change in San Francisco’s personnel department.

Here, The Niner Report provides a breakdown of the changes among San Francisco’s staff and personnel department through February.

SAD FAREWELLS

Robert Saleh: The 49ers gave Saleh his first shot at a high-profile NFL coordinator position in 2017 and, boy, did he ever not let them down.

Taking over a unit that ranked 32nd in the NFL in total defense in 2016, Saleh upgraded the personnel to fit his scheme during the rebuilding seasons of 2017-2018, then directed arguably the NFL’s premier defensive unit in 2019. That defense, one of the best in franchise history, ranked second in the NFL in total defense and led the league in passing defense while carrying the 49ers to the Super Bowl one year after a four-win season. But if Saleh was terrific at his job in 2019, then he was phenomenal last season in getting the most out of San Francisco’s defense. Losing impact players such as Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Richard Sherman for most of the season, and playing without 12 defensive regulars at various times during the year, Saleh still managed to hold it all together and produce one of the NFL’s best defenses for the second consecutive year. Despite the personnel shortfall, the 49ers finished fifth in the NFL in total defense and fourth in pass defense with 26 different defenders starting at least one game. That impressive performance made Saleh one of the hottest items on the head coaching circuit in January, and he interviewed for that position with the Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles before New York signed Saleh to a five-year contract on Jan. 14 to become the 20th head coach in Jets history — and the first Muslim head coach in NFL history. “Robert is a great coach and an even better person,” Lynch said. “He’s a gifted leader who has earned the opportunity to direct a team in this league. We wish Robert and (his) family the best and look forward to watching his future accomplishments.”

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CORNERBACKS

CORNERBACKS

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SAFETIES

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EDGE RUSHERS

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LINEBACKERS

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DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

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AFTERSHOCK

As if the 49ers didn’t already lose enough during their tortured 2020 season.

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LOOKING BACK…

It was a season to remember. It was a season to forget. Either way, you look at it, it was the strangest of seasons for San Francisco that you will ever see. Looking back at the year that was to illustrate that point, The Niner Report has assembled the best, worst and most unconventional of the 49ers’ 2020 season.

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TO BE DETERMINED…

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