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Who should be the 49ers defensive coordinator in 2023?

Rohan Chakravarthi
Feb 6, 2023 at 2:35 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers faced tough news when they lost defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans to the Houston Texans as their new head coach last week, although the announcement was expected over the past year, given the young coach's elevation to one of the best in the business at his job.

With Ryans gone, the 49ers now have a significant hole on their coaching staff, as head coach Kyle Shanahan must figure out the correct individual to take over that role in 2023 for the third time in his tenure.

However, there are several candidates linked to the job, given the stature of the position and the success that the 49ers have had on that end, so let's evaluate the potential options to identify the best option for San Francisco in 2023.

Honorable Mention: Vic Fangio

Vic Fangio was the most intriguing name for the 49ers' defensive coordinator role, given that he was seen around the building over the past year and his close relationship with head coach Kyle Shanahan.

If an option, Fangio would've been the best person for the job, given his resume and elite football mind that could've operated seamlessly with the elite 49ers personnel on the defensive end.

Many believe that Fangio operates in a 3-4 defensive scheme, which was the primary reason that the two sides didn't mind, but that take is objectively false, as the esteemed defensive coordinator has operated under 4-3 fronts, including the well-renowned 4-3 under look, as well as unique 6-1 fronts to provide different looks to opposing offenses.

Fangio's defensive scheme has different levels of flavor along those fronts as well, as he often fakes blitzes, while sending pressure on a different side, creating complications along an offensive line, especially when the front five shift to one direction or another.

However, the bread and butter of Fangio's scheme come with post-snap coverages, as the defensive coordinator loves to mix pre-snap looks from post-snap looks, which he's the best in the business at.

But, the 49ers aren't in the running for Fangio anymore, as the veteran coach signed a deal to become the defensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins on a three-year deal worth more than $4.5 million annually.

1. Steve Wilks

Steve Wilks has extensive experience as a defensive coordinator, both at the collegiate ranks and in the NFL, as well as two different stints as a head coach.

Wilks provides a different strategy with his defensive personnel, favoring blitzes and the nickel look that has become popular in today's game with passing attacks becoming more and more of an emphasis.

Like Fangio's scheme, Wilks's defensive scheme requires unique players that can fit certain roles, but the 49ers are well-matched for that with unique linebackers and capable members in the secondary.

More importantly, Wilks is a renowned leader, which the 49ers have valued at the defensive coordinator position with each of their previous two hires: Robert Saleh and DeMeco Ryans.

Wilks is a strong fit, not only because of his scheme, but also his personality, which has been a valuable characteristic of defensive-minded coaches for the 49ers.

Additionally, Wilks could provide the 49ers with two third-round compensatory selections should he earn a head coaching job after two seasons with the 49ers, providing a bonus on top of a strong resume.

2. Kris Kocurek

Kris Kocurek has become a well-known coach for his strong personality as the 49ers' defensive line coach.

With the way that San Francisco has developed defensive linemen during the Shanahan era, of which Kocurek has been the defensive line coach for the entire tenure, it's fair to say that the former Detroit Lions coach is the best at his position group.

Up until recently, Kocurek had been known to prefer his position group, the defensive line, rather than partake an interest in the coordinator position.

However, with the potential of losing him to the Houston Texans, Kocurek has been mentioned as a candidate for the defensive coordinator job with the 49ers, which would be intriguing, as the 44-year-old coach would be a first-time coordinator.

It would be a tough pill to swallow should the 49ers lose Kocurek, given how strong his coaching has been with the 49ers, but it would also be a different transition for the potential first-time play-caller.

3. Chris Harris

Chris Harris is the third-known name surrounding the 49ers' defensive coordinator position, and is currently the defensive backs coach for the Washington Commanders, although he has been mentioned to potentially take a role with the Tennessee Titans, should he not earn the job with San Francisco.

Harris is a respected name within his position group, and would provide a change with the 49ers, who have gone with two former linebackers coaches in Saleh and Ryans to succeed at the defensive coordinator position.

Harris is a rising name in the coaching world, although he, like Kocurek, would be a first-year coordinator, presenting a different challenge for the 40-year-old coach.

However, amidst this coaching search, one thing is clear: Kyle Shanahan deserves the benefit of the doubt for whomever he hires to lead the position.

Shanahan has now correctly identified strong defensive coordinators twice, while also making a good decision in hiring first-time coach Brian Griese as the team's quarterbacks coach.

While Wilks would be the best fit for the job in my eyes, given his experience, leadership, and scheme, the 49ers have done well in regard to their coaching staff, which has been one of the reasons why they've experienced their level of success during the Shanahan regime.
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.

1 Comment

  • MT9er
    Another component that doesn't seem to get discussed as much is Shanahan's clearly stated preference for keeping the staff together as much as possible. I've not heard or read anything to suggest whether fangio would have been open to that, or wanted to bring in his own people. Without knowing details like that, it seems hard to definitively assess which candidates might be better than others.
    Feb 6, 2023 at 2:57 PM

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