49ers eyeing elite Chiefs defensive backs coach for coordinator role

This would be an intriguing hire, right?

Kansas City Chiefs defensive backs coach Dave Merritt
Kansas City Chiefs defensive backs coach Dave Merritt / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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The 49ers are interviewing Chiefs defensive backs coach David Merritt for their defensive coordinator vacancy, according to an NFL Network report.

The San Francisco 49ers are expected to wrap up their search for a new defensive coordinator this week, according to statements from both head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.

While a few outside candidates have been suggested, including former Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, the general thinking was that the Niners would promote from within to maintain defensive continuity and to avoid the "clash of ideas" that existed between the team and former coordinator Steve Wilks, who was dismissed from duties in the wake of San Francisco's Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

It's still very possible the 49ers promote someone like defensive assistant Nick Sorenson, but another provocative name has now emerged in their search for a new body.

And he comes from that same KC team that beat the Niners in the Super Bowl.

NFL Network reports 49ers are interviewing Chiefs coach David Merritt

On Wednesday, NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported that San Francisco had an external candidate in the mix for its interview process, current Kansas City defensive backs coach David Merritt.

Merritt has been a longtime understudy of Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who helmed the NFL's second-best defense over the course of 2023.

And one of KC's top strengths was its secondary, including cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and L'Jarius Sneed.

Merritt entered the NFL coaching ranks back with the New York Jets in 2001 and first began work with Spagnuolo with the New York Giants in 2007, sparking a lengthy tenure in which the former was one of the latter's primary lieutenants.

Now, the question is whether or not Merritt would be a scheme fit.

Like the 49ers, Spagnuolo operates a 4-3 base defense but has a much bigger emphasis on blitzing, which requires excellent coverage options within the secondary, as defensive backs frequently find themselves in one-on-one situations.

It's not clear if Merritt, should he receive the Niners job, would adopt this same philosophy, as San Francisco has traditionally operated a four-man rush with seven players back in coverage.

But, given Merritt's pedigree for top-notch secondaries, one can recognize how his presence could turn what's been almost a yearly weakness into a potential strength.

Perhaps that'll be the formula that convinces Shanahan and the 49ers to bite on this new name in the mix.

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