49ers pull plug on defensive coordinator Steve Wilks after one season

Perhaps the Niners should have brought in a defensive coordinator who would have focused more on the front seven instead of the secondary.

Only Kyle Shanahan knows for sure.

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages

While the 49ers boasted an elite defense in 2023, Kyle Shanahan ultimately felt Steve Wilks wasn't the right fit as defensive coordinator.

Steve Wilks is no longer the San Francisco 49ers' defensive coordinator.

On a conference call with reporters the Wednesday after his team lost Super Bowl 58 to the Kansas City Chiefs, head coach Kyle Shanahan revealed that Wilks had been relieved of his duties.

Here's what Shanahan had to say, as transcribed by 49ers Webzone:

"I've been sleeping on this for a few nights and trying to come up with a few tough decisions, but this morning, I relieved Steve Wilkes of his duties. Going to end up making a change here at defensive coordinator. A really tough decision because it really says nothing about Steve as a man or as a football coach. He's exactly what we wanted as a man. He is a great football coach. But just where we're going and where we're at with our team from a scheme standpoint and things like that, looking through it all throughout the year, through these last few days, I felt pretty strongly that this was a decision that was best for our organization.

And even though it was one I didn't want to make, it was something that once I realized that I think a different direction is what's best for our organization, then it's something that I have to do. So let him know this morning, and I know I wasn't able to let you guys know yesterday because I wasn't sure about it yesterday. But I am now, and that's the case, and I wanted to let you guys know firsthand.

It just ended up not being the right fit. And it hurt for me to do this, but that's exactly why I had to. ... But it was just for his background and how it ended up with us, it was harder than it needed to be, and I felt it would improve us going a different direction."

Wilks joined the Niners in 2023 after serving as the Carolina Panthers' interim head coach to close out 2022, and the original line of thought was that he would be the perfect candidate to replace now-Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans, who occupied that role with San Francisco the two seasons prior.

And while San Francisco ultimately finished with the league's No. 3-ranked scoring defense, there were plenty of signs that things weren't all right with Wilks handling that side of the ball.

What led to Kyle Shanahan, 49ers firing Steve Wilks?

When the 49ers endured their three-game losing streak earlier in the regular season, Wilks received plenty of heat, namely for not wholly being able to match coverages with the pass rush.

An odd solution seemed to be moving Wilks down from the booth and onto the sideline, although it's hard to totally pin success merely on that. But it was a story at the time, and the Niners defense experienced a notable turnaround when he made the move.

Two other instances stand out, however.

During one of those losses, Wilks called a blitz just before halftime that led to a Minnesota Vikings 60-yard touchdown. After the game, Shanahan told reporters, "He knows he messed up," with regard to Wilks' decision.

Odd for a coach to single out a coordinator like that.

Then, in the Super Bowl, Shanahan called a timeout when he clearly didn't approve a defensive alignment Wilks had called.

During Wednesday's presser, Shanahan admitted that Wilks adjusting to the idea of keeping San Francisco's defensive scheme as is made things challenging, and it's also possible to point out how Wilks was a defensive backs specialist, whereas the 49ers' previous two coordinators focused on linebackers and the front seven.

Perhaps the Niners want more of a front-seven personality, and that'll be part of Shanahan's new coordinator search.

He'll explore both internal and external candidates, according to the presser.

Read more from Niner Noise