49ers find new DC in-house but also bring in Brandon Staley in new role

The San Francisco 49ers have hired Nick Sorensen as defensive coordinator and former Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley as an assistant head coach. Sorensen's experience with the Seattle Seahawks' defense was likely played a role in his hiring.

Los Angeles Chargers v New Orleans Saints
Los Angeles Chargers v New Orleans Saints / Sean Gardner/GettyImages

In the Kyle Shanahan era, the San Francisco 49ers have been a breeding ground for young coaching talent. Since 2017, Shanahan's Niners have been home to several assistant coaches that went on to become head coaches or coordinators, including Robert Saleh, DeMeco Ryans, Mike McDaniel, Bobby Slowik, Adam Stenavich and Joe Woods.

When Shanahan's staff first arrived in San Francisco, they inherited the league's worst scoring defense. For six years, the Niners defensive coordinator role was anchored by Saleh and Ryans, who implemented a scheme that drew inspiration from the Seattle Seahawks' famed "Legion of Boom" defense. Saleh and Ryans transformed the defense into a juggernaut, which earned them head coaching positions with the New York Jets and Houston Texans, respectively.

San Francisco 49ers hire DC Nick Sorensen, assistant HC Brandon Staley

In 2024, San Francisco will hope they can develop another future star. The Niners are naming Nick Sorensen as their defensive coordinator, according to ESPN. Sorensen will be a coordinator for the first time. The young coach spent the past two years as the team's defensive pass game specialist and nickel cornerbacks coach.

Former Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley is also expected to join the team as an assistant head coach.

The hiring comes less than a month after the team fired former defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who spent just one season with the team.

The internal hiring makes sense for the Niners. Shanahan and general manager John Lynch reiterated that the team didn't want to stray from their defensive scheme, which they believe is best suited for the personnel on their roster.

"We know who we are, who we're going to be, and that's not going to make a wholesale schematic change there," general manager John Lynch said, h/t ESPN. "We feel good about where we're at."

In 2023, the Niners filled the defensive coordinator vacancy with the external hiring of Wilks, and it proved to be a misstep. Wilks, who served brief head coaching stints with the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers, struggled to adapt to the defensive scheme that Saleh and Ryans had implemented in San Francisco. A hallmark of Wilks' defensive philosophy was the emphasis on creating pressure from a variety of blitz packages. Throughout the 2023 season, Shanahan clashed with his defensive coordinator over their differing philosophies.

Shanahan and Lynch hope that Sorensen's familiarity with the scheme will provide better continuity to the defense. Sorensen was an assistant coch with the Seattle Seahawks from 2013 to 2020, when the Legion of Boom was in its prime. He also spent the 2021 season as the special teams coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Staley's defensive background isn't similar to the Niners scheme, but his veteran presence will likely serve to offset any of Sorensen's inexperience as a rookie coordinator.

"[Staley's] a really bright dude," Lynch said. "We have an open mind, but we do know there's certain core principles that we're going to always be on the defensive side. ... I wouldn't rule him out because of that."

While San Francisco has become a great place for young coaches looking to make a name for themselves, the constant turnover at coaching left the Niners with instability. If Sorensen can follow in the footsteps of Saleh and Ryans, the team may be searching for another defensive coordinator again soon.

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