The 49ers have found their replacement for DeMeco Ryans.
According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, San Francisco is hiring Steve Wilks, most recently the interim head coach of the Carolina Panthers.
It’s the second time the 49ers have had to replace their DC in the last three years, and the first outside candidate they’ve hired.
Wilks’ specialty is defensive backs, and has held defensive coordinator, defensive backs/secondary and head coaching roles between college and the NFL since beginning his coaching career in 1995. He runs a 4-3 base defense, which Kyle Shanahan indicated in his post-season presser was an emphasis in the hiring search.
Before he was the Panthers’ interim head coach, he was their defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach.
His lone shot at a full-time head coaching gig was in 2018 with the Arizona Cardinals, where he was fired after one season.
In April, Wilks joined newly-hired Vikings defensive coordinator (and former Dolphins head coach) Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL along with Ray Horton, a longtime NFL defensive coordinator and current head coach of the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers.
The lawsuit accuses the NFL of racial discrimination within its hiring practices. Wilks’ only comment on the subject in June was: “I’m all about change and I’ll leave it at that.”
Wilks posted the following statement to Twitter after the Panthers, who interviewed Wilks for the full time position, hired former Colts head coach Frank Reich instead.
Wilks’ lawyers put out the following statement after Reich was hired:
“We are shocked and disturbed that after the incredible job Coach Wilks did as the interim coach, including bringing the team back into playoff contention and garnering the support of the players and fans, that he was passed over for the head coach position by David Tepper. There is a legitimate race problem in the NFL, and we can assure you that we will have more to say in the coming days.”
It’s evident that Wilks has aspirations as a head coach and is a legitimate candidate worthy of consideration.
When in charge of the Panthers this season, he led them to a 6-6 record that bordered on playoff contention following a 1-4 start under Matt Rhule.
Given the recent track records of 49ers defensive coordinators and the core of the defense, Wilks should be set up for a chance to be a head coaching candidate, if the team continues to perform and if the interview processes are sincere.
For now, Wilks will inherit arguably the league’s best defense, anchored by the likes of Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, Arik Armstead, Dre Greenlaw and Charvarius Ward.