The San Francisco 49ers have struck gold at defensive coordinator under Kyle Shanahan. Robert Saleh found his footing once the team began to amass talent, and was swiftly rewarded with a head coaching job.
DeMeco Ryans was arguably better, and the Houston Texans came in and swooped Ryans, and now they’re in a playoff race.
In 2023, the 49ers needed a defensive coordinator, but didn’t want to make any other changes. So they hired Steve Wilks, who had to learn the Niners scheme, and not the other way around.
The 49ers are fourth in defensive DVOA, but the players have been adamant that Wilks has preached turnovers all season. His message has gotten through. The Niners defense is first in the NFL in turnovers per drive.
The NFL Players Association asked over 1,700 players to rate the coordinators they play for on a scale of 1-10. Wilks found himself No. 2:
The top five defensive coordinators in the NFL, according to the NFLPA player survey:
Aaron Glenn, Detroit Lions
Steve Wilks, San Francisco 49ers
Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys
Brian Flores, Minnesota Vikings
Raheem Morris, Los Angeles Rams
The purpose of this survey was to highlight the strong head coach candidates with the interview cycle right around the corner, per NFLPA president J.C. Tretter. It’s taken a 49ers defensive coordinator at least two years to be hired away. Will San Francisco have the same fortune with Wilks?
He’s obviously made an impression to be rated so highly. There’s more to being a coordinator than calling plays. Players see your preparation, how you treat them, adjustments, organization, how you react when things aren’t going your way, and a million more things.
Wilks has been around the block a few times, and the 49ers are hoping that experience pays off during this playoff run. If it does, Wilks should see his name pop up as a potential head coaching candidate.