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Steve Wilks joins San Francisco 49ers as defensive coordinator

Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks was surprised that he didn’t land the Carolina Panthers’ full-time gig after replacing Matt Rhule on an interim basis this past season.

Wilks was passed over in favor of Frank Reich despite leading Carolina to a 6-6 record and playoff contention. It led to more talk about the lack of diversity within the NFL head coach ranks.

Remember, Wilks had previously joined Brian Flores’ class-action suit against the league and its teams claiming discrimination in the interview process for coaches and front office personnel.

While the highly-respected football mind did not land a top gig, he is now headed to Northern California as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator.

Wilks interviewed with the 49ers’ brass in Santa Clara on Monday with the expectation that something could potentially get done on this front. He will now replace new Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans in leading a unit that was the best in the NFL during the 2022 regular season.

For Steve Wilks, this could potentially act as a stepping stone. Each of San Francisco’s past two defensive coordinators have landed head coaching jobs elsewhere. In addition to Ryans, Robert Saleh was hired by the New York Jets ahead of the 2021 season after spending the previous four years as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator.

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Steve Wilks’ fit with the San Francisco 49ers

steve wilks, san francisco 49ers defensive coordinator
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Wilks runs a base 4-3 defensive scheme, which fits into what the 49ers do on that side of the ball. It was among the most-important aspects for head coach Kyle Shanahan as he searched for a coordinator to replace the aforementioned Ryans.

“I love our defensive staff, I love our defense. I’m trying to get something where we don’t have to turn much over,” Shanahan said in his season-ending press conference last week.

While Shanahan did want continuity, the offensive-minded head coach knew full well that he needed an experienced guy on the other side of the ball. Wilks, 53, more than provides that.

Dating back to the 2005 season with the Washington franchise, Steve Wilks has proven he can be a major component to success. He has served as the Chicago Bears’ defensive backs coach (2006-08), then-San Diego Chargers defensive backs coach (2009-11) and in the same role with the aforementioned Panthers (2012-14).

Wilks then got his break under former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera back in 2015, becoming his top assistant, before taking over as the Arizona Cardinals’ head man in 2018. While that one-and-done season didn’t go too well (3-13), there are many who believe Wilks should be a head coach in the NFL right now.

As noted above, Shanahan wants to retain continuity. Though, that could be a tad difficult with Ryans looking to poach assistants for his staff in Houston. It’s in this that Steve Wilks could bring in some individuals from his previous staff in Carolina.

The likes of former Panthers defensive coordinator Phil Snow and defensive run-game coordinator Al Holcomb come to mind first.

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