The 49ers reportedly have found their replacement for DeMeco Ryans.
According to NFL Media’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport, San Francisco plans to hire Steve Wilks to become its new defensive coordinator. Wilks began the 2022 season as the Carolina Panthers defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach, before being promoted to interim head coach on Oct. 10, when Matt Rhule was fired after a 37-15 loss to the 49ers.
Wilks will inherit a defense that finished first in points allowed per game (16.3) and yards allowed per game (300.6) under Ryans, who recently accepted the head coaching job with the Houston Texans. While Ryans had a background with linebackers, Wilks’ specialty lies with the secondary.
The 53-year-old Wilks has spent 15 seasons coaching in the NFL and led the Panthers to a 6-6 record as the interim head coach. Carolina gave up 21 points and 347.6 yards per game over the final 12 weeks of the regular season. Wilks and the Panthers parted ways this offseason after Frank Reich was picked as the new head coach.
Niners fans may remember Wilks from 2018, when he was head coach of the Arizona Cardinals for a season before getting fired. Wilks has coached under Lovie Smith, Norv Turner and Ron Rivera throughout his career, spending six seasons with Rivera in Carolina before moving to Arizona.
Wilks’ 4-3 scheme means the 49ers don’t have to do any major personnel reshuffling on the defensive side of the ball. San Francisco features playmakers at all three levels with players like Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Fred Warner, Mooney Ward and Talanoa Hufanga. Vic Fangio, another rumored defensive coordinator target, employs a 3-4 front that would have required some changes to the unit.
Coach Kyle Shanahan has been so good at picking defensive coordinators that he can’t keep them around for long. Robert Saleh took a head-coaching job with the New York Jets in 2021 after doing a great job with the Niners, while Ryans was a hot head-coaching candidate for the past two offseasons. Their departures have also netted the 49ers compensatory draft picks through the NFL's initiative to promote minority hires.
For now, it appears the 49ers will keep respected defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, despite overtures from the Texans for their defensive coordinator position.