NFL

Robert Saleh Gave up on His Bank Job to Pursue a Football Life After 9/11

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh remains a hot name in coaching circles.

Even in a troubling, injury-plagued year for the San Francisco 49ers, Saleh has his defense playing at a commendable level. The defending NFC champions have survived the losses of Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, and others to have an outside chance at ending the year with a .500 record.

Saleh deserves significant credit for the 49ers’ resilience. However, if not for the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Saleh might still be working in a bank rather than coaching on an NFL sideline.

Robert Saleh has risen to stardom with the San Francisco 49ers

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The Jacksonville Jaguars’ loss proved to be the San Francisco 49ers’ gain.

Jaguars coach Doug Marrone fired Saleh, the team’s linebackers coach, after the 2016 season. New 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan named Saleh his defensive coordinator just days after Shanahan officially took over.

Although injuries have been a constant in Shanahan’s four years, the defense has been a bright spot each season. San Francisco made the Super Bowl last year thanks to a dominant defense that forced turnovers at a high rate and attacked the quarterback.

Defensive end Nick Bosa, the No. 2 overall pick, won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman earned Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors.

Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs defeated Saleh and the 49ers in Super Bowl 54. San Francisco lost seven of its first 12 games this season and needs a strong finish to even end the year at 8-8.

Saleh originally began his post-college life in banking

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Although Robert Saleh played college football, he began his adult life, so to speak, in the real world.

Saleh earned a finance degree at Northern Michigan, where he also starred as a tight end. When it became evident that the NFL and professional football weren’t worth chasing, Saleh turned his attention to banking.

Saleh took a job with Comerica Bank and remained in Michigan. A few years after graduating from Fordson High School in Dearborn, Mich., Saleh had an opportunity to work in his hometown and make good money out of college.

Robert Saleh pursued his football dreams after 9/11

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Like so many others, Robert Saleh’s life changed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Saleh’s oldest brother, David, had just begun his second day of training at Morgan Stanley at the South Tower. On the 61st floor at the time, David reached the bottom in time and survived. 

His brother’s harrowing experience changed Saleh’s path. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, David Saleh recalled a phone conversation he had with his brother in February 2002.

“[Robert] calls me back and he says, ‘I can’t stand this s—. I have to be on the football field,’ and I’m like, ‘What? Buddy, you didn’t go to the combine, you didn’t enter any of the drafts,’ He’s still in that crying voice telling me he doesn’t want to play—it hurts, it hurts too much, he’s sick of icing everything. I’m like, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ He says, ‘I’d rather coach.’ ”

Robert Saleh began his coaching career later that year as a defensive assistant at Michigan State. Saleh earned his first NFL job as a defensive intern with the Houston Texans in 2005 and has been in the league ever since.

Saleh is considered one of the top coaching candidates this offseason. He has been linked to the Detroit Lions’ opening, among other teams.

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