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Why Steve Wilks was a home run hire for the 49ers

Wilks’ former players have raved about his coaching prowess.

Detroit Lions v Carolina Panthers Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

The 49ers have finally found their replacement for DeMeco Ryans following his departure to Houston to take the Texans head coaching job. Both Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport of NFL Network have reported the 49ers plan to hire former Panthers and Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks to fill their vacant defensive coordinator position.

Wilks comes to the 49ers with nearly two decades of NFL coaching experience, most recently under the interim head coach tag in Carolina, where he turned around a lowly Panthers squad and had them in playoff contention until the end of the season.

Not only is Wilks a strong fit from a schematic standpoint, which I will touch on momentarily, he also has the leadership qualities that will fit in seamlessly with a 49ers organization that has cultivated a strong culture from the ground up over the last six seasons.

That much was made clear by Panthers Pro Bowl edge rusher Brian Burns when we spoke in Las Vegas last week. Burns made it a point to highlight how Wilks cared for his players on an individual level, and how that was able to garner the respect of the players he was coaching in the locker room.

“Steve Wilks is a great man in my opinion. One of the main things about him is that I think he cares more about us players as humans more than just as players. That’s the main thing about Wilks, like he taught me a lot, he kind of just like fit into that father role for me. He’s just a genuine person.”

Burns also touched on how he felt that Wilks could maximize his talents as one of the elite edge rushers in the NFL, something that bodes well for a 49ers defense that is anchored by the presumed Defensive Player of the Year in Nick Bosa.

“Pretty much when he took over I started rushing a lot more, I used to drop into coverage a ton the previous three years and the first half of this (2022) season. So once he took over, I was kind of like all down, ears pinned back and he let me go. That’s definitely something he believes in, front and coverage.”

For a 49ers team that has built its identity on stockpiling the defensive line, bringing in a defensive coordinator who emphasizes the importance of winning up front should help aid in the continuity of the tremendous success this unit has had under the previous two defensive coordinators.

Wilks expertise on the back end at the NFL level is a new trend for a Shanahan defensive coordinator, as Robert Saleh and DeMeco Ryans both were in the role of linebackers coaches before being hired as the 49ers defensive coordinator.

Having a defensive coordinator that carries over a decade of experience of working closely with defensive backs at the positional level now gives the 49ers an all-star roster of talent on the defensive coaching staff at all three levels of the defense.

You have Kris Kocurek fine-tuning the defensive line, Johnny Holland continuing his amazing work with the best linebacking corps in football, and now Wilks who brings his wealth of experience to a talented 49ers back end that has a true number one cornerback and an All-Pro safety as the foundation to build around.

Losing a guy like Ryans is a gut punch, but the 49ers rebounded quickly, and they seamlessly found a replacement to oversee this defense who not only will push them to be the best they can be as a unit, but also cultivate individual interpersonal relationships that are going to have these guys buying in to whatever Wilks is selling.