Former Carolina Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks was passed over by the franchise for the full-time gig, and now, the defensive mind is taking his talents to San Francisco. Wilks will now end up leading the No. 1 defense in the NFL from this past season, as the 49ers are expected to name him their next defensive coordinator, according to a report from NFL Media.
The 49ers were searching for a new lead man on defense after former defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans was hired as the new head coach of the Houston Texans last week. San Francisco’s defense was the top unit in the NFL this past season, as it allowed an average of 300.6 yards of total offense per game and just 16.3 points per game. The 49ers were ousted from the postseason in the NFC Championship Game for the second straight season, falling to the Philadelphia Eagles 31-7.
Wilks spent part of last season as the Panthers’ defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach before being promoted to interim head coach once Matt Rhule was fired. He quickly turned Carolina around, finishing out the season with a 6-6 record and putting the Panthers in contention to win the NFC South at the end of the year.
Wilks won over the Panthers locker room during his 12 games as interim head coach, although team owner David Tepper opted to hire former Indianapolis Colts head coach and Panthers quarterback Frank Reich. Wilks released a statement on the Panthers’ decision:
“The sun rose this morning and by the grace of God so did I. I’m disappointed but not defeated. Many people aren’t built for this but I know what it means to persevere and see it through.
“It was an honor for me to coach those men in the Carolina Panthers locker room as the interim head coach. Players, coaches and staff, thank you for your hard work and dedication. I took pride in representing Charlotte, a great city that I love so much. Thank you to my family, friends and the community for your overwhelming support.
“I do wish Frank Reich all the best. I will always be a fan of the Carolina Panthers Football Team.”
Wilks got his start in the NFL as an assistant coach back in 2006. After a successful stint with the Panthers as a defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator from 2012-17, he was hired as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2018, but fired one year in after going 3-13. After that one season, Wilks served as the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, defensive coordinator for the Missouri Tigers and then found his way back to Carolina in 2022.
He will have plenty of talent to work with in San Francisco, with Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, and Charvarius Ward being among the high-level players at his disposal. The 49ers have consistently sported one of the NFL’s top defensive units even while cycling through defensive coordinators (both Ryans and Robert Saleh have been hired away to head coaching jobs), and that should not be expected to change with Wilks at the helm.