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Ex-49ers support Ryans as Saleh's potential successor

NBC Sports

If, as expected, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan finds himself in the coming weeks looking for a new defensive coordinator to replace Robert Saleh, he does not need to search very far.

Former 49ers defensive standouts and three wise men who serve as analysts on NBC Sports Bay Area are in agreement the next defensive coordinator already is on the team's coaching staff.

Donte Whitner, Takeo Spikes and Ian Williams each believe inside linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans would be the ideal choice to take over the 49ers’ defense if Saleh becomes an NFL head coach this offseason.

“DeMeco Ryans has had great success at all levels of football,” Whitner said. “His linebackers are arguably the best-performing group on the 49ers roster. He deserves consideration if the 49ers' defensive coordinator position opens up.”

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Ryans, 36, was a two-time Pro Bowl player during his 10-year playing career with the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles.

After sitting out one season following his retirement, Ryans began his coaching career in 2017 when he joined the 49ers' staff as a defensive quality control coach.

After one season, he received a promotion to 49ers inside linebackers coach.

“DeMeco Ryans is a leader of men,” Spikes said. “As a former player, he has an innate and keen understanding of the locker room, as well as the culture. He's spent quality time under the tutelage of some of the best defensive minds that have come through the game, Wade Phillips and Robert Saleh.


“As a coach, he has developed two young linebackers in Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw. He’s helped morph Warner into a Pro Bowl linebacker and possibly All-Pro. He’s taken Greenlaw, a fifth-round pick, and helped him become one of the better tackling linebackers in the league.”

Williams believes the 49ers’ defense has made so many strides over the past four seasons that it only makes to hire from within the current staff.

“Let’s talk about rewarding your own and promoting someone in-house," Williams said. "That shows your players, staff, organization that if you do your job well, you will be rewarded for it.

“Too many times teams go looking for a new coach or player in free agency on other teams, when all along they have the right person already in place. All the team needs to do is identify the potential and promote from within.”

The 49ers have good chemistry on defense, which has become apparent this season when the team has been decimated by injuries. The defense is still playing hard and playing at consistently high levels.

Ryans' promotion would enable the 49ers to continue to build on the scheme and relationships already established, Williams said.

“To keep someone familiar with the team, knows his players' weakness and strengths, will keep somewhat the same defense and will bring energy,” Williams said. “That’s how you string along success from the familiarity of the players with him, and there’s isn’t a transition period or an extended learning period that the coach needs to identify what his players can and can’t do.

“Not only will his players play hard for him like they did for Saleh, they have already built relationships with him. So that will save precious time instead of a new D.C. coming in and having to learn about all his players. Coach Ryans knows his players and can focus his scheme and prepare for opposing offenses this offseason.”

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Outside candidates Dan Quinn or Kris Richard could be tempting, along with other coaches who currently occupy jobs with other teams, such as Raheem Morris and Gus Bradley.

Those coaches have experience as defensive coordinators.

Ryans does not.

But the three former 49ers say he is prepared for the opportunity despite his relatively short time as a coach. They are putting their support firmly behind Ryans, who is not far removed from his own playing career.

Said Spikes, “The question may need to be, ‘Why wouldn't you consider him?’ ”

Watch 49ers Pregame Live on Sunday at 9 a.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area

Analysts Donte Whitner, Takeo Spikes, Ian Williams and Jeff Garcia discuss the 49ers’ offseason plan, including why linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans should be at the top of the list of possible replacements for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.