49ers make splash hire, grab Steve Wilks for defensive coordinator

Interim head coach Steve Wilks of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Interim head coach Steve Wilks of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

The 49ers didn’t wait long to replace now-Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans, as reports state Steve Wilks is joining the Niners as the new defensive coordinator.

The San Francisco 49ers are no longer in the market for a new defensive coordinator.

Merely days after head coach Kyle Shanahan’s former defensive coordinator, DeMeco Ryans, expectedly left to become the new head coach of the Houston Texans, the Niners trimmed down their search to a handful of candidates to replace Ryans.

One of them, former Carolina Panthers defensive pass game coordinator and secondary coach and interim head coach Steve Wilks, ultimately will get the job.

This, according to a Tuesday report from NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport:

Wilks went from a coordinator spot to interim head coach with Carolina after San Francisco beat the Panthers in Week 5, forcing that team’s ownership to fire head coach Matt Rhule after a relatively unsuccessful stint there.

However, Carolina’s defense was still its more notable strength, and it ultimately finished 19th in total points allowed and tied for 15th in points per play, which is a modest achievement considering the Panthers’ wholly inept offense.

Carolina also won five of its last eight games this season when Wilks was at the helm, and it nearly was enough to put the Panthers into the playoffs.

Prior to his recent time in Carolina, Wilks served as a head coach with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018, a defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns in 2019 and had spent time with both the Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers as an assistant. He also worked with the Panthers from 2012 through 2017 in a variety of roles.

Shanahan had stressed the desire to maintain continuity with his post-Ryans defense, and it’s likely this influenced the decision to onboard Wilks instead of other potential candidates, such as now-Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who would have likely installed a 3-4 base system over the 49ers’ current use of a 4-3.

Additionally, Wilks probably agreed to retain a significant number of the Niners’ current defensive assistance.

If there’s one thing for certain, Wilks will be inheriting the NFL’s top defense from last season, and he has to be happy about that.

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