Just five days after DeMeco Ryans was introduced as the next head coach of the Houston Texans, it looks like the 49ers have found their new defensive coordinator.
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday, citing sources, that former Carolina Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks will lead the 49ers' defense next season.
San Francisco interviewed Wilks for the position Monday, Rapoport reported, citing a source.
Wilks remains under contract with the Panthers, but any speculation of him coaching the team in 2023 was put to rest after former Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich was hired for the job.
The 49ers' defense was the top unit in the NFL this past season, allowing an average of 300.6 yards of total offense per game and just 16.3 points per game. San Francisco's defense played a major part in the team reaching its third NFC Championship Game in four seasons, and Wilks now can help them get back there next season after falling to the Philadelphia Eagles and being ousted from the postseason once again.
Coach Kyle Shanahan became familiar with Wilks' coverage schemes during his time as offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons.
Shanahan's first game as head coach of the 49ers also was Wilks' first game as an NFL defensive coordinator. Panthers vs. 49ers in Week 1 of the 2017 season. It also was Christian McCaffrey’s first game in the league. (h/t The Athletic's David Lombardi).
Between the Carolina connection and Wilks' one season with the Arizona Cardinals, Shanahan has faced Wilks' defenses multiple times, which gave him enough background for his reported hire.
Panthers star edge rusher Brian Burns told Niners Nation's Jordan Elliott last week that Wilks is a "great man" who cares about players as humans more than just athletes, a characteristic that Ryans displayed and was respected for in the 49ers' locker room and something that the 49ers wanted in their next hire.
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The 49ers reportedly had their eye on Washington Commanders defensive backs coach Chris Harris, former San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and 49ers defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. But it appears the search is over as they have found their guy.