CLEVELAND — Robert Saleh’s defense sacked Baker Mayfield and shut down Cleveland’s offense this season. The Browns now want to see if he can help build them into winners.
The Browns are interviewing Saleh, the 49ers’ defensive coordinator, for their head coaching job Saturday. He’s the fourth candidate to interview this week with Cleveland, which also needs a general manager after John Dorsey left the team upon refusing to take reduced role.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and members of the team’s search committee are sitting down with the 40-year-old Saleh in the Bay Area. Thanks in part to Saleh’s swarming, second-ranked in the NFL defense, the Niners earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC and have a bye this weekend.
Cleveland began interviews on Thursday, when the Browns met with former Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy at their headquarters and then traveled to Baltimore to talk with Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman. On Friday, Haslam and his group interviewed Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
The Browns have also scheduled interviews with Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who nearly got Cleveland’s job a year ago.
Saleh has been coach Kyle Shanahan’s coordinator the past three seasons. San Francisco ranked among league leaders in nearly every statistical category this season, finishing second in total defense and first against the pass.
Star cornerback Richard Sherman said Saleh deserves much of the credit for the Niners’ dominance.
“He’s infectious. His energy is infectious,” Sherman said. “Saleh’s energy has been fantastic and phenomenal and very consistent week in and week out, even last year. It’s great they’re noticing this year but he’s been like this forever.”
Shanahan admires Saleh’s passion and ability to make players better. Saleh has been known to get on his players during animated sideline rants.
“Saleh, I mess with him and call him (Mahatma) Gandhi,” Shanahan said. “Saleh is a peaceful giant. Saleh is very relaxed and peaceful. He’s not like that very much, that’s rare. He’s a very good teacher. He speaks to everyone with a lot of regard, a lot of respect, but it’s cool to see him like that because he’s not always like that.
“He probably did black out and couldn’t control it. When you do that it’s very natural because he’s not putting on a show by any means because that’s not really how he is. He’s very relaxed, but there’s more anger and energy in there, saying it proves that it comes out in the heat of battle.”
Against the Browns in October, San Francisco’s defensive front overwhelmed Cleveland’s line and sacked Mayfield four times. The Niners had Mayfield scrambling all game and they intercepted him twice.
Before going to San Francisco, Saleh was an assistant in Carolina. He won a Super Bowl on Seattle’s staff in 2013.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll believes Saleh is ready to take the next step and become a head coach.
“We hired him thinking he was going to be a position coach on our staff, and he was going to work his way up,” Carroll said. “Really, a hardworking, smart guy. He came off a controlled role that he had with rave reviews. He came here, took it over, took all the responsibility. He did a ton of stuff. Just demonstrated in creating his own value here in this program was obvious.
“It was just a matter of time and opportunity. He’s done a fantastic job with these guys. I’m not surprised.”
The Browns fired Freddie Kitchens after losing to Cincinnati last week and finishing 6-10. Haslam is looking for his sixth coach since buying the franchise in 2012.