June 13, 2024

Following Steve Wilks’ abrupt dismissal, the 49ers will start looking for a new defensive coordinator. The person they select will be the team’s fourth defensive coordinator in the previous five years. That is a touch misleading, though, because DeMeco Ryans and Robert Saleh weren’t fired; instead, they were elevated to head coaches of different teams. Kyle Shanahan has never fired a defensive coordinator before, and Wilks is the first one. This does come as a bit of a surprise considering how strong Wilks’ defense was for most of Super Bowl 58.

Even if the 49ers had prevailed on Sunday, a thorough examination of the entire season would have revealed that this decision most likely would have been made. Wilks was simply not a good fit for the Bay, which is why. During a conference call on Wednesday, Shanahan stated as much. The 49ers’ well-established defensive strategy wasn’t suited for Wilks’ aggressive blitzing scheme. Throughout the season, Shanahan had to intervene to modify Wilks’ playcalling, and following a Week 7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, he even criticized the seasoned coach in the postgame interview.

The 49ers’ run defense suffered the most decline in 2023. Once leading the NFL in rush defense points per attempt in the 2021 season, this team is now at #14 in that category. This was made clear during the playoffs when Green Bay and Detroit both ran a lot of yards on the ground and mauled the 49ers. His dismissal was also a result of the 49ers’ defense’s front and back ends not communicating with one another. There were far too many misunderstandings.

Staley Brandon
Shanahan and Staley are close friends, and Rams head coach Sean McVay is close with Shanahan. Throughout Los Angeles’ 2020 Super Bowl run, he oversaw the Rams’ defense, which helped them rank as the best in the NFL. Since then, though, Staley’s Chargers defense hasn’t produced a top-20 defense; in 2023, they were #24 in points allowed and #28 in yards allowed. The 49ers’ plans might also mesh well with Staley’s Vic Fangio-style defense. Though the 49ers have played a 4-3 for Shanahan’s whole career, he does operate a 3-4 style defense.

San Francisco’s current linebackers coach, Johnny Holland Holland, succeeded DeMeco Ryans in 2021. It’s important to remember that Shanahan has a history of favoring linebackers as his position coach. Ryans and former defensive coordinator Robert Saleh were both linebackers coaches. Given that he has been with the organization when Shanahan was appointed head coach and that 2024 will mark his eighth season, there is a strong possibility that he will be promoted internally.

Belichick Bill
This is very much out of the question. The greatest head coach in history is hardly likely to accept a coordinator position at this point in his career. If Belichick isn’t offered any head coaching positions in the future, he might prefer to retire and sit out the season. But simply try to see it. Consider the following scenario. Among the best offensive coordinators in history is Kyle Shanahan. And the defense is led by Belichick, the all-time great defensive coordinator. A match forged in heaven. Belichick might possibly be able to assist Shanahan in his Super Bowl difficulties.

Last Words
This is probably going to be a San Francisco internal promotion. When Shanahan and Wilks first peered outside the building, things didn’t turn out well. But given that Vrabel and Belichick have both declined, Brendan Daly of Kansas City ought to be at the top of the 49ers’ wish list if they decide to explore outside the building. It should go without saying that the hunt should end there if Belichick or Vrabel are interested.

The 49ers are most likely to recruit someone who is already employed there, based on past performance as well as Shanahan’s statements during the press conference indicating that he fired Wilks. Shanahan also emphasized how the defensive communication was aided by Saleh and Ryans’ prior experience as linebackers’ coaches.

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