49ers promote within for defensive coordinator but also make another surprise hire

Nick Sorensen makes sense, but Brandon Staley?

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley
Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages
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The 49ers are promoting Nick Sorensen to defensive coordinator, but they're also going to onboard former Chargers coach Brandon Staley.

Raise your hand if you predicted the San Francisco 49ers would hire not one but two of the candidates they interviewed for their defensive coordinator vacancy.

Well, that's what they're doing.

Early on Saturday morning, ESPN's Adam Schefter and Jeremy Fowler reported that head coach Kyle Shanahan had finally made his decision regarding his new defensive coordinator for 2024.

The choice? The team's defensive passing game specialist Nick Sorensen.

Sorensen gets the promotion from within. But, as the report pointed out, the Niners are also hiring another candidate they interviewed for the same role.

An external candidate in former Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley.

Nick Sorensen makes sense for 49ers, but why Brandon Staley?

As San Francisco wrapped up interviews for the vacancy, earlier in the week, reports surfaced from insiders like The Athletic's Matt Barrows that the "smart money" would be on Sorensen to inherit the job left by fired coordinator Steve Wilks.

Sorensen, a former NFL player, has been in NFL coaching ranks since 2013 when he was an assistant to the Seattle Seahawks, which means he stems from a defensive scheme not unlike what the 49ers operate. He then joined the Niners staff in 2022

In the interest of defensive continuity, that hire makes sense.

Staley, however, operated the Los Angeles Rams' potent defense back in 2020 as their defensive coordinator before taking over the Bolts' job in 2021 through the middle of 2023 when he was fired from that role.

What's interesting is that Staley ran a 3-4 defense, not the 4-3 base San Francisco operates. So, in that regard, it sounds like Staley will be shifting philosophies a bit with his new gig.

And it's not yet clear what that job will be aside from serving as assistant head coach, which was also vacated this offseason when Anthony Lynn departed the team.

It's true that Staley is a bit of a controversial hire. The Chargers were one of the most underwhelming and underperforming teams in the league during his tenure there, and it's going to be hard to shake that reputation in whatever role he gets.

But, as this January 2023 piece from The Athletic's Ted Nguyen pointed out, there are a lot of extremely positive traits that Staley offers:

"When hiring a coach because of his success as a coordinator, the hope is that the coach can provide a constant edge by doing what they did to get hired. This season, Staley has done that. He’s been masterful at identifying tendencies and taking away what opponents do best with whatever he’s had left in his cupboard. "

Nguyen described how, despite all their talents, the Bolts were regularly riddled by injuries to key players, and that certainly hindered Staley's effectiveness.

And while Staley might have struggled as both the defensive play-caller and head coach, his defensive mind is ultimately something that should be appreciated.

Sorensen over Staley still helps maintain that continuity Shanahan and the 49ers want, though. It's likely that Shanahan will have Staley assist with game-planning and preparation, while Sorensen will get the final defensive say on game days.

From that regard, it'll surely be interesting to see if this new tandem can maintain the team's defensive effectiveness in 2024 and hopefully beyond.

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