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Breer: Steve Wilks was already on ‘shaky ground’ with 49ers heading into Super Bowl

Feb 19, 2024 at 3:13 PM--

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While fans were clamoring for his dismissal following some disappointing playoff performances, it seemed unlikely that head coach Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers would part ways with defensive coordinator Steve Wilks after just one season. In fact, on Tuesday, February 13, Shanahan insisted he expected all his coaches to return.

A day later, the 49ers head coach jumped on a conference call with reporters and announced that he had decided to fire Wilks.

"A really tough decision because it really says nothing about Steve as a man or as a football coach," Shanahan told reporters. "He's exactly what we wanted as a man. He is a great football coach. But just where we're going and where we're at with our team from a scheme standpoint and things like that, looking through it all throughout the year, through these last few days, I felt pretty strongly that this was a decision that was best for our organization."

Wilks' dismissal wasn't solely based on his performance in the Super Bowl. According to NFL insider Albert Breer, Wilks was already on "shaky ground" heading into the matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs due to his inability to get the most out of his players.

Wilks was a poor fit from the start. The 49ers' defensive scheme differed from the one Wilks was most familiar with. The team wanted to maintain continuity with its players and coaching staff, simply inserting Wilks to work with what had already been established.

"Fair or not, there was some belief in that organization that a stacked defense hadn't reached its potential in the regular season, which was only validated in narrow playoff wins over Green Bay and Detroit," Breer wrote.

During the playoffs, the 49ers defense allowed an average of 149.3 rushing yards per game. By comparison, the unit was ranked third against the run during the regular season, when it allowed an average of just 89.7 rushing yards per game.

While Wilks' defense held Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to only three points well into the third quarter of the Super Bowl, Breer believes he can pinpoint the moment when Shanahan completely lost confidence in his assistant coach.

"If you want to see the moment Steve Wilks lost Kyle Shanahan, go to the timeout the head coach called with 2:48 left in overtime of the Super Bowl," Breer wrote. "Two plays prior, Wilks rushed seven and played his DBs nearly 10 yards off the ball on third-and-6, essentially giving the Chiefs an easy first down. They were in a similar look before the timeout, and Shanahan was clearly frustrated, and it wasn't the only time (it was visible, too, with the scheme issues on Mahomes's two big runs, the latter of which came on fourth down in overtime)."

Shanahan is now tasked with finding his fourth defensive coordinator since taking over the team in 2017.

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