Packers’ LaFleur ‘real confident’ Robert Saleh will be a head coach ‘in the near future’

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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Robert Saleh has emerged as a fan favorite for the Detroit Lions job, and if the well-respected San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator ends up replacing Matt Patricia as head coach, he will square off against one of his best friends in football twice a year.

“He’s one of the smartest people I know and I think it shows,” Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Wednesday. “You can see just the energy, the effort that the defense in San Francisco plays with over there, as well as just the scheme is really tough to go against. I’m real confident he’ll be a head coach somewhere in this league in the near future.”

LaFleur and Saleh worked together in two stops as they made their way up the coaching ladder.

REPLACING PATRICIA: 5 candidates to become next Lions coach

They shared a two-bed apartment with no furniture as graduate assistants at Central Michigan in 2004, and four years later reunited as quality control assistants with the Houston Texans.

Saleh left CMU in 2005 for a job at Georgia, but was there only weeks before leaving for the NFL. LaFleur landed his job in Houston on Saleh’s recommendation.

“He’s the reason I got in the National Football League,” LaFleur said. “It was basically because of the work that he did when he was in Houston, so he was the guy that kind of recommended me for a very entry-level position.”

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In his second season with the Packers, LaFleur has experienced almost unprecedented success. He went 13-3 and led Green Bay to an NFC North championship last season, and the Packers (9-3) can clinch their second straight division title Sunday with a win over the Lions and a loss or tie by the Minnesota Vikings.

Since LaFleur arrived in January of 2019, the Packers are 22-6, the third-best record in football. Former 49ers coach George Seifert holds the record most wins in his first two seasons with 28.

A first-time head coach, LaFleur said staying “true to who you are as a person” has been key to his success.

“And certainly I think when you have really talented players, the more connected you can get with those guys, I think the better off you’re going to be,” he said. “So I think developing those relations are pivotal. I think hiring great people around you is absolutely imperative. I know I don’t have all the answers, that it certainly is a collective effort around here, and I think you’ve got to be willing to listen a lot and ask a lot of questions and try to figure out what’s best for your organization.”

Saleh works with LaFleur’s brother, Mike, in San Francisco, and could bring Mike along as part of his offensive staff at wherever he lands this offseason.

Along with the Lions, he’s expected to be a top candidate in Houston and with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he coached linebackers in 2014-16.

READ MORE: Robert Saleh makes impressive case to be next Lions coach

FROM FEBRUARY: Robert Saleh, the ‘pride and joy’ of Dearborn, on cusp of Super Bowl glory

The Lions (5-7) have not yet whittled down their list of potential replacements for Patricia, and are expected to conduct a handful of interviews for general manager first.

Per NFL rules, Saleh, whose 49ers defense ranks sixth in total defense and 13th in scoring defense, cannot interview until after the regular season.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for everything that he’s been able to accomplish throughout his career and what a great person first and foremost,” LaFleur said. “I think that’s always the No. 1 quality you’ve got to look at, look for in a person is their intentions, their heart and he’s got so much energy.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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