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Ex-Panthers head coach Steve Wilks hired as 49ers defensive coordinator, inherits top unit



SANTA CLARA, Calif. News – Steve Wilks is making a cross-country road trip from Charlotte to San Francisco after he was hired as the next defensive coordinator for the 49ers.

San Francisco, who has the NFL’s top defense, lost its coordinator, DeMeco Ryans after he signed a six-year deal to become its next head coach one week ago. This came on the heels of the firing of Lovie Smith.

Under Ryans, San Francisco ranked second in the NFL in points (18.9) and yards per game allowed (305.3), fourth in ESPN’s defensive efficiency (60.7) and yards per play (5.04) and fifth in defensive EPA (67.02) in the last two seasons, ESPN reports.

Wilks was beaten out for the Panthers’ head coaching job by Frank Reich on Jan. 26 after he was named a finalist.

Wilks coached Carolina to a 6-6 finish to the 2022-23 season after he inherited a 1-4 team from a fired Matt Rhule. Wilks was promoted from defensive pass game coordinator to the role.

San Francisco makes sense for Wilks as “the 49ers believe it can fit into the framework of their existing defense — which finished ranked No. 1 in the NFL across multiple categories last season,” The Athletic reports. “Wilks has adopted pattern-matching zone coverages in the past related to the Cover 3, which the 49ers’ defense still runs with relative frequency.”

Adding Wilks gives the 49ers a defensive coach now at the line, linebackers and overall defensive coordinator.

Finally, both of San Francisco’s previous defensive coordinators went on to become head coaches: Ryan and the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh.

On the day of Reich’s firing, Wilks tweeted: “I’m disappointed but not defeated. Many people aren’t built for this but I know what it means to persevere and see it through,” hinting that his quest for head coaching likely isn’t over.

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