Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

6 candidates to replace 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans if he leaves

Rohan Chakravarthi
Jan 11, 2023 at 4:45 PM--

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is currently a hot name in the NFL head coaching carousel, having received two requests for interviews thus far—one from the Denver Broncos and another from the Houston Texans.

While there is a realistic chance that DeMeco Ryans could remain with the 49ers for the 2023 season, here are some candidates that could replace the 38-year-old coach if he chooses to leave.

Internal Candidates

The 49ers have developed a strong defensive staff, which is one of the reasons that development continues to occur on that side of the ball to produce top-rated defenses every season.

So, it makes sense that there are several internal candidates that could see promotions sooner rather than later, be it with the 49ers or with another team.

1. LB coach Johnny Holland

Johnny Holland may be the most underrated coach on the 49ers aside from first-year quarterbacks coach Brian Griese, who has done a tremendous job this season.

Holland joined the 49ers when head coach Kyle Shanahan was hired in 2017, and has been the linebackers coach for three of his six seasons in San Francisco, where he, alongside Ryans, has overseen the development of Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, and Azeez Al-Shaair.

The esteemed linebackers coach stepped away from the team in a full-time role during a battle with cancer, but returned to coaching towards the end of 2021.

Upon his return, Holland received extensive praise from linebacker Fred Warner, who acclaimed the veteran coach as the "best linebackers coach in the NFL."

"It's been everything [to have Holland back with the team]," Warner said prior to the season. "That's our guy. I think he's the best linebacker coach in the entire league ... when you have a great teacher, somebody who's been through it, has all that experience, and is able to kind of give us that experience, teaching us, loving us up, letting us know that we are the best. And in turn, that's gonna, you know, that's gonna sit with us and we're gonna be able to go out there and perform at our best."

Prior to his time in San Francisco, Holland had a stint in Cleveland where he oversaw a career year from linebacker Christian Kirksey, and had a hand in the development of current New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis.

With his experience as a player and the value he brings as a coach, Holland could be the second internal promotion that Shanahan makes at the defensive coordinator position.

2. Secondary coach/Passing game specialist Cory Undlin

Cory Undlin is currently in his second season as the passing game coordinator and secondary coach for the 49ers after serving as the defensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions in 2020.

In his first season with the 49ers, Undlin's unit ranked sixth in passing yards allowed at 206.5 per game, despite fielding a secondary that was significantly injured and featured players like Josh Norman, Deommodore Lenoir, and Ambry Thomas, who all were below-average options at the time.

Undlin has overseen the breakout of cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, who sprung onto the scene as a significant starter in 2021 and was a vital cog of the secondary in 2022.

Additionally, Undlin has been involved in the breakout season of safety Talanoa Hufanga, while fielding yet another top defensive unit in 2022.

With the pieces in place, Undlin could fill the role of defensive coordinator, placing him with a better opportunity than he had with the Lions to succeed.

3. Safeties coach Daniel Bullocks

Daniel Bullocks is the youngest internal option of the three, and perhaps the most realistic option for the defensive coordinator post.

Bullocks, 39, also joined the 49ers when Kyle Shanahan was hired as the head coach, beginning as an assistant defensive backs coach for two seasons before becoming the safeties coach over the past four years.

In his tenure with the 49ers, Bullocks has overseen a consistent progression with the 49ers pass defense, as well as the development of safety Jimmie Ward, who is regarded as one of the better safeties/slot cornerbacks in the NFL.

However, Bullocks could also be a prime candidate to join defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans at his next location, potentially taking him out of the race when that does occur.

If he remains with the 49ers, Kyle Shanahan could attempt to keep him with a promotion, knowing that Holland and Undlin are likely to stay if they remain in their current roles.

External Options

1. Tennessee Titans senior defensive assistant Jim Schwartz

Jim Schwartz has been receiving some attention recently, as the Cleveland Browns interviewed him for their vacant defensive coordinator position.

Despite being a veteran coach, the former head coach would be a strong fit in San Francisco, as he has ties to defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, who was on Schwartz's staff during his entire tenure with the Detroit Lions.

Additionally, Schwartz is a known proponent of the Wide-9 defensive scheme that San Francisco operates, making him a strong scheme fit.

San Francisco could be the perfect stepping stone for Schwartz to potentially begin earning head coaching interviews once again, as they are comprised of one of the best, if not the best, defensive rosters in the NFL.

2. Baltimore Ravens passing game coordinator Chris Hewitt

Hewitt would be a wild-card option for the 49ers defense, as he has no ties with the organization, but is still a solid candidate for the job.

Hewitt has been the defensive pass game coordinator for the past two seasons in Baltimore, while serving as the secondary coach for the past eight seasons.

In his time as the secondary coach, the Ravens have consistently produced one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, ranking second in points allowed during the stretch and yards allowed per game.

Hewitt has earned interest in the past for a defensive coordinator post, both from the Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars last offseason, and could make for an intriguing outside-the-organization hire.

3. Former Denver Broncos HC Vic Fangio

Vic Fangio has to be included in the mix, given his ties with the Shanahans and his appearance at training camp earlier this season after there was some potential interest in a role in the offseason.

However, Fangio has been heavily linked to Sean Payton as his potential defensive coordinator should he earn a head coaching job somewhere, potentially taking him out of the mix for the San Francisco job.

Additionally, the longtime defensive coach has prioritized a 3-4 defensive scheme, which differs from the 4-3 scheme that the 49ers have implemented to great success over the past few seasons.

Still, Fangio has been a strong defensive mind throughout his coaching career and should be in the mix should DeMeco Ryans be hired elsewhere.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • BigAl
    I would have to imagine Kocurek wants a crack at it...I have a feeling Payton could end up in ARZ with unlimited power...If not and he does get into a potential opening on the Chargers.....I would call Staley.
    Jan 11, 2023 at 8:58 PM
  • sl
    If sean goes to denver, why would vic go there? We need a guy who isnt itching to be head coach . Stability. Vic has had great defenses back to the Saint’s days.
    Jan 11, 2023 at 7:46 PM

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