Panthers handed 49ers a perfect DeMeco Ryans replacement

Interim head coach Steve Wilks of the Carolina Panthers. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
Interim head coach Steve Wilks of the Carolina Panthers. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers are hiring former Panthers coach Steve Wilks to serve as their new defensive coordinator in 2023.

The San Francisco 49ers are planning to name Steve Wilks as the team’s defensive coordinator in 2023, moving quickly to fill in the hole DeMeco Ryans left behind.

A week after Ryans agreed to become Houston Texans’ head coach, the 49ers are reportedly giving defensive play-calling duties to Wilks, who arrives on the West Coast with a wealth of experience on various teams.

Wilks finished the 2022 season as interim head coach of the Carolina Panthers following Matt Rhule’s unsurprising sacking. Carolina went 6-6 under Wilks’ leadership and even had a shot to make the playoffs late in the year; by then, Wilks had ingratiated himself well into the Panthers franchise and earned the support of many players.

Then, the Panthers turned around and hired Frank Reich to be their next head coach.

Ousted from Carolina, Wilks now gets to work with Kyle Shanahan on a serious playoff-contending team that was arguably one injury away from making the Super Bowl this postseason.

Steve Wilks fell into San Francisco 49ers’ lap after Panthers snub

A new year brings new opportunities, and while Wilks inherits possibly one of the best defenses in the league, he naturally has big shoes to fill after Ryans’ departure.

A former defensive backs coach for the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Chargers, Wilks spent most of his NFL career in Carolina and worked his way up to defensive coordinator in 2017. He had a brief head coaching stint on the Arizona Cardinals in 2018 but was fired after one season — in his defense, could anyone have foreseen the Josh Rosen implosion?

Wilks likely would have relished a second head coaching opportunity on the Panthers, but such is the chaotic world of the NFL coaching carousel. Even though he’s making what could be seen as a demotion in his career by joining San Francisco, in many ways it feels like the opposite.

One could certainly do worse than working with a defense stacked with stars from Fred Warner to Nick Bosa to Charvarius Ward and ranked at the top in the league in nearly every category last season.

As long as Wilks can maintain the team’s defensive efficiency for the next few years — which is no easy feat — he’s sure to become a hot head coaching candidate once more. After all, San Francisco’s last two DCs, Robert Saleh and Ryans, followed the same trajectory to their current head coaching positions.

If Wilks plays his cards right, he could be next.

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