49ers Fire DC Steve Wilks

In the wake of San Francisco’s Super Bowl defeat, a major change has taken place on the sidelines. Head coach Kyle Shanahan announced Wednesday that defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has been fired.

The decision had not been made until today, Shanahan said in a conference call. He added (via NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo) that Wilks’ system did not align with what the team had used with its previous DCs. As a result, Wilks is out after one campaign in the Bay Area.

As expected, DeMeco Ryans was one of the top coaching candidates in the 2023 hiring cycle. His decision to take charge of the Texans created a vacancy at the defensive coordinator spot, as was the case previously when Robert Saleh was hired as head coach of the Jets. Wilks was brought in following his run as interim head coach of the Panthers, something which many viewed as being sufficient to earn him the full-time position.

Instead, Carolina went with Frank Reich for the job, leaving Wilks to search out a coordinator gig. Expectations were high when he joined the 49ers as Ryans’ replacement, given his experience as an NFL staffer including DC stints during his first Panthers tenure in 2017 and his time with the Browns in 2019. San Francisco’s defense – featuring one of the league’s most highly-regarded front sevens – managed to help bring the team to the Super Bowl, but the unit endured rough patches along the way.

In the regular season, the 49ers ranked in the top eight in both points and yards allowed. The team fared far better against the run than the pass, something which comes as little surprise given the injuries endured at the safety spot in particular. Things took a different turn in the postseason, however, when both the Packers and Lions put up strong numbers on the ground. The effort and attention to detail of Wilks’ unit was called into question leading up to the Super Bowl, including by the 54-year-old himself.

In Sunday’s title game, the Chiefs were held to just three points in the first half. San Francisco also registered an interception in the third quarter, but the team’s defense regressed in the late stages of the contest. On the final drive of regulation, a stop would have won the game, but Kansas City managed to kick the field goal which forced overtime. In the extra frame, the Chiefs’ first possession saw the team drive 75 yards for the winning touchdown. Kansas City finished the contest with 455 yards of offense.

Wilks interviewed for a pair of head coaching positions in this year’s cycle, but he did not emerge as a finalist for the Falcons’ or Chargers’ postings. A move to a new team as defensive coordinator is out of the question for 2024, as every DC spot has been filled in recent days and weeks. Wilks will move forward in search of a position coaching role or a return to the college ranks. He served as defensive coordinator at Missouri in 2021 before jumping back onto an NFL sideline the following year.

Shanahan noted (via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle) that he will consider both internal and external candidates to replace Wilks. After going outside the organization last year, it will be interesting if he elects to choose an option more familiar with the scheme used during Saleh and Ryans’ tenures in the position. In any case, the 49ers will have a major vacancy to fill as they begin their offseason.

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