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Steve Wilks 49ers

Will Steve Wilks Be Next 49ers’ DC To Land Full-Time HC Gig?

  • Justin Melo
  • February 7, 2023
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The San Francisco 49ers are hiring defensive coordinator Steve Wilks to replace DeMeco Ryans, according to multiple reports. It’s a win-win for all parties involved. Landing the 49ers’ DC job could put Wilks on the fast track to eventually land another head coaching gig.

Wilks did an excellent job as the Panthers’ interim head coach down the stretch of the 2022 campaign. Wilks replaced Matt Rhule and immediately turned the Panthers around. Wilks inherited a 1-4 Panthers squad and led them to a more respectable 7-10 finish after compiling a record of 6-6. The Panthers remained in the race for the NFC South division title under Wilks despite their lackluster start.

It made Wilks a legitimate candidate to become Carolina’s full-time head coach. His players went to bat for him, but the Panthers hired the offensive-minded Frank Reich instead. Wilks couldn’t realistically return to Carolina as a result and has now landed the best defensive coordinator opening on the market in San Francisco.

Working as Kyle Shanahan’s defensive coordinator has been a clear pathway to head coaching opportunities. Shanahan’s previous two defensive coordinators, Robert Saleh and Ryans, are currently both head coaches. And make no mistake, Wilks wants to be a head coach again.

The 49ers fielded an elite defense throughout the 2022 campaign. Ryans had his unit firing on all cylinders. The 49ers allowed a league-low 300.6 total yards of offense per contest. That success was stifled by a stingy run defense that allowed 77.7 rushing yards per game, a mark that was only outdone by the Tennessee Titans (76.9). The 49ers owned the league’s top-ranked scoring defense, allowing just 16.3 points per outing. Ryans was hired to become the next head coach of the Houston Texans as a result.

If there’s one thing that’s working against Wilks, it’s that expectations will be high. Wilks is inheriting an elite defense. Any regression may be viewed as a blemish on Wilks’ resume—the margin for error is nonexistent.

Good thing for Wilks that regression isn’t expected. Wilks is receiving an opportunity to coach some high-level defensive talent that remains under contract. Sack artist Joey Bosa led all NFL defenders in sacks with 18.5 quarterback takedowns in 2022. Fred Warner is the best linebacker in football. Together, Warner and Dre Greenlaw formed a high-performing duo at inside linebacker while combining for an astounding 257 regular-season tackles. 

Safety Talanoa Hufanga enjoyed a breakout campaign. Free-agent signing Charvarius Ward lived up to expectations as San Francisco’s new No. 1 cornerback. Bosa, Warner, Greenlaw, Ward, and Hufanga all remain under contract through at least the 2023 season.

San Francisco’s list of defensive free agents is made up of modest contributors and role players. They include Charles Omenihu, Samson Ebukam, Tashaun Gipson, and Jimmie Ward. All four players can be re-signed via affordable deals. If not, San Francisco shouldn’t have too difficult of a time replacing their production.

Wilks nearly became the Panthers’ next head coach. The audition he received in Carolina proved Steve Wilks deserves another opportunity to lead a franchise. He’ll receive his chance if he’s as advertised as San Francisco’s new defensive coordinator.

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Justin Melo