49ers select Steve Wilks to replace DeMeco Ryans as defensive coordinator

Jerry McDonald, Bay Area News Group on

Published in Football

The 49ers went outside the organization to replace DeMeco Ryans as defensive coordinator.

Steve Wilks was selected by coach Kyle Shanahan Tuesday to take over the NFL’s top-ranked defense, a league source confirmed. The story was first reported by NFL Media.

Wilks, 53, was hired as interim head coach in place of the fired Matt Rhule last season for the Carolina Panthers after serving as the defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach.

The 49ers reportedly interviewed Washington defensive backs coach Chris Harris last week and were also considering internal candidates including defensive secondary coach Cory Undlin.

Wilks was elevated one day after Carolina lost at home 37-15 to the 49ers, leaving the Panthers with a 1-4 record. Carolina went 6-6 over the rest of the season to finish 7-10. Wilks was considered for the Panthers’ permanent head coaching job that instead went to Frank Reich.

Carolina’s level of play improved and the Panthers began running the ball with more consistency after a blockbuster trade that sent star running back Christian McCaffrey to the 49ers for second-, third- and fourth-round draft picks in the upcoming draft and a fifth-rounder next season.


“The sun rose this morning and by the grace of God so did I,” Wilks said in a statement posted on Twitter after Reich got the job. “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.”

Wilks wished good luck to Reich, but that sentiment was not shared by his attorney Douglas Wigdor.

“We are shocked and disturbed that after the incredible job coach Wilks did as the interim coach, including bringing the team back into playoff contention and garnering the support of the players and fans that he was passed over for the head coach position by (owner) David Tepper,” Wigdor posted on Twitter. “There is a legitimate race problem in the NFL, and we can assure you that we will have more to say in the coming days.”

In taking over the 49ers’ defense, Wilks will coordinate a unit that finished the 2022 season giving up the fewest yards (300.6) and points (16.3) of any team in the NFL.


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