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AP source: 49ers hire Steve Wilks as defensive coordinator

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers are hiring former Carolina interim head coach Steve Wilks as their new defensive coordinator.

A person familiar with the choice said Tuesday that Wilks will fill the void created when DeMeco Ryans was hired as head coach in Houston. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the hiring hadn’t been announced.

NFL Network first reported that Wilks got the job.

Wilks is a longtime defensive backs coach in the NFL and has served as defensive coordinator in Cleveland and Carolina before becoming interim coach for the Panthers this season. He also was head coach for one season in Arizona but was fired after going 3-13 in 2018.

Wilks joined the Panthers staff in 2022 and took over as coach after Matt Rhule was fired following a 1-4 start to the season.

Wilks got Carolina back in contention in the NFC South by going 6-6 but the Panthers were eliminated from playoff contention after blowing an 11-point fourth-quarter lead to Tampa Bay in Week 17.

Wilks was a candidate for the full-time job in Carolina that instead went to Frank Reich. Now Wilks has a shot at running the NFL’s best defense from the 2022 season with hopes of using that as a stepping stone to a head coach job the way Ryans and predecessor Robert Saleh did.

San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan was looking for a coordinator who would keep as many defensive assistants as possible and run a similar system to the one that was so successful under Ryans.

“I’m trying to get something where we don’t have to turn much over,” Shanahan said last week. “Whichever way we decide to go, whether we bring in a new guy or not, that it’s someone who can work with who we have and what we’ve accomplished here because I love the scheme that we run and I feel the foundation we have on the D-line, at linebacker, at corner, at safety, I think our players fit very well in it too, so I’m hoping to find someone who fits with us personality-wise and scheme-wise.”

The Niners led the NFL in points allowed (16.3 per game), yards allowed (300.6 per game) and were tied for second in takeaways (30).

The defense has All-Pros at all three levels led by defensive end Nick Bosa, linebacker Fred Warner and safety Talanoa Hufanga. That trio is supported by defensive tackle Arik Armstead, linebacker Dre Greenlaw and cornerback Charvarius Ward, who are all under contract for 2023.


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