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A new cradle of coaches? Robert Saleh latest coach with Northern Michigan University connections to become NFL head coach

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur watches during the first half of the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 19, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP file photo)

MARQUETTE — They call Ohio’s Miami University the “cradle of coaches.”

Maybe they can start adding Northern Michigan University to that list.

Miami has spawned such legendary football coaches as Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, John Harbaugh, Sean McVay, Ara Parseghian and Paul Brown.

Now the Wildcats can add a fourth name to their list of NFL head coaches with connections to their grid program after Robert Saleh was hired as top man for the New York Jets on Thursday night.

That doesn’t even include one of college football’s most successful head coaches, Lloyd Carr, who led the Michigan Wolverines for 13 years and won over 75 percent of his games there.

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh talks to players on the sideline during a game against the Arizona Cardinals in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sept. 13. Saleh inherited one of the worst defenses in the league when he arrived in 2017 and helped turn it into a dominant unit that helped the Niners reach the Super Bowl last season and remain in contention this season despite the string of injuries on both sides of the ball. (AP file photo)

Saleh, 41, joins the likes of the Green Bay Packers’ Matt LaFleur and former head coaches Steve Mariucci and Jerry Glanville who either played or coached at NMU.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Saleh is believed to be the first Muslim Arab-American head coach in the NFL as he is of Lebanese descent.

He was sought by at least five other teams this month to fill their head coaching positions, including the Detroit Lions.

Saleh, who grew up in Dearborn, was a four-year starter as a tight end at NMU from 1997 to 2000. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in 2001 from Northern, majoring in finance.

A number of media reports list his playing years at NMU from 1998-2002, but a look at the 2008 printed NMU preseason football guide shows him as a letterwinner from 1997 to 2000.

Steve Mariucci, left, and Tom Izzo dry off from the rain and tell stories in the Marquette Golf Club clubhouse during the Mariucci Upper Peninsula Celebrity Golf Classic on June 27, 2013, in Marquette. (Journal file photo)

The New York Times story reported that he took a job after graduation in New York at Comerica Bank’s world headquarters, but had always had thoughts about football coaching in the back of his mind.

After his brother David escaped the South Tower of the World Trade Center before it collapsed in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he “decided that life was too short to not give coaching a chance,” the Times article stated.

In 2002, he started his coaching career at Michigan State, later coaching at Central Michigan and Georgia.

Interestingly, he was best man at LaFleur’s wedding after the two became close as graduate assistants at CMU.

Saleh made the jump to the NFL in 2005 with the Houston Texans, where he first was a defensive intern, then a defensive quality control coach and finally an assistant linebackers coach.

East head coach Jerry Glanville signals a play from the sideline during the first half of the East-West Shrine Classic in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Jan. 18, 2014. (AP file photo)

He moved onto the Seattle Seahawks in 2011 as defensive quality control coach, then to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2014 to become linebackers coach.

He landed with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 as defensive coordinator, and coached against LaFleur’s Packers last January in the NFC Championship game that the 49ers won 38-3.

Taking over the 32nd-ranked defense in San Francisco, he turned it into a top-five unit the past two seasons, according to an ESPN report on Saleh’s hiring in New York.

Saleh was with the Seahawks when they won Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014 and the defense was known as the Legion of Boom, while last year’s 49ers got him his second trip to a Super Bowl.

LaFleur, who is 10 months younger than Saleh but also 41, led Green Bay to the NFC’s best record of 13-3 in his second season there. He was quarterbacks coach at NMU early in his coaching career in 2006.

LaFleur began coaching in 2003 at his alma mater, Saginaw Valley State, then was on the staff at CMU in 2004 and 2005. After NMU, he was offensive coordinator at another GLIAC member, Ashland, in 2007.

He began his NFL coaching career in 2008, like Saleh, with Houston, before going onto Washington, Atlanta, the Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee.

Between the stints with Washington and Atlanta he was quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame in 2014.

LaFleur was hired away from the Titans in 2019 to become head coach of the Packers, where he was also 13-3 in his first season.

Mariucci, 65, is an Iron Mountain native who not only played football at NMU, but led the Wildcats as their sophomore starting quarterback to their only national championship in 1975. He was a three-time All-American at Northern.

He was roommates with fellow IM native Tom Izzo, who has gone on to win multiple national championships in NCAA Division I men’s basketball as head coach at Michigan State.

Mariucci began his coaching career at NMU in the 1978-79 seasons before moving onto Cal State-Fullerton and Louisville.

He went to the pros in 1985 with the USFL’s Orlando Renegades, then had a short stint that fall as a quality control coach with the NFL’s Rams.

He returned to college at Southern California in 1986 before moving onto the University of California, where he finished as offensive coordinator in 1990-91.

He rejoined the NFL in 1992 as quarterbacks coach with the Packers, including guiding a young signal caller named Brett Favre.

He went back to Cal in ’96 as head coach, then was hired by the 49ers as their head coach in ’97, succeeding George Seifert. He coached in San Francisco until 2002, when he reportedly was fired after losing in a front-office power struggle. He compiled a 60-43 record and four playoff berths in six years there.

The Lions hired Mariucci in 2003 and was fired during the 2005 season by general manager Matt Millen.

Since leaving the Lions, Mariucci has become a mainstay on the NFL Network’s various NFL GameDay shows.

Glanville, 79, played football at NMU in the early 1960s. He was a middle linebacker and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1964.

He has continued to coach in 2020 as head coach of the Conquerors of The Spring League.

He began in the NFL with the Lions as special teams-defensive assistant from 1974-76, then was a coach with the Atlanta Falcons from 1977-82, lastly as defensive coordinator.

He was secondary coach of the Buffalo Bills in 1983 and began as defensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers in 1984, taking over first as interim head coach in 1985, then perman

ent head coach from 1986-89. After his firing, he served as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons from 1990-94.

Known for wearing all black while coaching and turning a number of colorful catch phrases, he had an NFL record of 63-73.

He was also head coach in college at Portland State from 2007-09 and has also coached at Hawaii and with the Tiger-Cats of the CFL and Tampa Bay Vipers of the XFL.

Glanville has worked as a studio and game analyst with HBO, CBS and Fox, while also being a former NASCAR driver and owner.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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