The 49ers plan to hire former Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks as the team’s defensive coordinator, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport.
Wilks, who began the 2022 season as Carolina’s passing game coordinator and secondary coach, impressed when he took over as head coach following Matt Rhule’s firing five games into the year. The Panthers went 6–6 with the 53-year-old at the helm and nearly managed to win the NFC South before a late-season loss to the Buccaneers.
As a result of his performance in the interim role, Wilks received some interest for the full-time position until Carolina opted to hire former Colts coach Frank Reich. After the Panthers announced the decision, Wilks said he was “disappointed but not defeated” about not getting the chance to continue building the franchise.
Wilks will replace DeMeco Ryans, who left to fill the head coaching vacancy with the Texans last week. During his two seasons in the role with the NFC West franchise, Ryans continued to establish San Francisco as one of the elite defenses in the NFL, which included overseeing a unit that allowed a league-best 16.3 points per game to opponents in 2022.
Wilks will seek to continue the positive momentum that the Niners’ defense has displayed in past years and will arrive in the Bay Area with plenty of past experience. In addition to his roles with the Panthers, the longtime assistant served as the defensive coordinator with the Browns and Missouri, as well as the head coach of the Cardinals back in 2018.
If Wilks seeks to return to the head coaching ranks one day, serving as the 49ers defensive coordinator seems like a good position to hold. The past two Niners’ DCs–Ryans and Robert Saleh–have gone on to become head coaches after leading San Francisco’s defense for a handful of years.