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49ers interviewing Chiefs assistant for defensive coordinator job

Feb 28, 2024 at 1:38 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers are interviewing Kansas City Chiefs defensive backs coach David Merritt for their vacant defensive coordinator position, as reported by NFL Media's Mike Garafolo. Following the team's Super Bowl loss earlier this month, the 49ers parted ways with Steve Wilks, the previous defensive coordinator.

"Merritt, a longtime trusted assistant for [Chiefs defensive coordinator] Steve Spagnuolo, helped coach up KC's fourth-ranked pass defense this season," wrote Garafolo.

Under Wilks, the 49ers' defense ranked third in the NFL against the run but 14th against the pass.

Merritt has just completed his fifth season as the Chiefs' defensive backs coach, marking his 27th season in the NFL, which includes a four-year playing career as a linebacker.

San Francisco has already interviewed former Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley and the team's defensive passing game specialist Nick Sorensen for the defensive coordinator job. The 49ers also plan to interview their defensive backs coach, Daniel Bullocks, this week.

The following is from Merritt's bio on the Chiefs' official website.

With five defensive back rookies in 2022, no other playoff team had more rookie defensive backs. Under Merritt's tutelage, rookie CBs Jaylen Watson and Joshua Williams both snagged a regular and postseason interception. CB L'Jarius Sneed and S Juan Thornhill led the team with three interceptions a piece, contributing to the defense's 10 interceptions in the final 10 games. Back for his third year, Sneed showed his versatility as a blitzer and recorded a career-high 3.5 sacks en route to the team's Super Bowl LVII victory. Another rookie standout was 2022 first-round draft pick (21st overall) CB Trent McDuffie who battled back from a hamstring injury in Week 1. McDuffie returned after six games, starting the remaining 13 games of the season, and recorded 44 tackles (28 solo), 1.0 sack (-12 yards), and seven passes defensed. The Chiefs acquired S Justin Reid via free agency in 2022. Reid racked up 81 tackles (59 solo), 1.0 sack and seven passes defensed. Rookie CB Jaylen Watson made a name for himself after a momentum-shifting interception during the Week 2 victory over the Chargers. His 99-yard pick-six was the longest go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown scored by a rookie in NFL history. Through the season, Merritt developed rookie S Bryan Cook who ended up playing 16 games and totaled 27 tackles (19 solo), 1.0 sack, and two passes defensed. In the AFC Championship Game his progress showed as he broke up a pass which led to an interception by fellow rookie CB Joshua Williams. The defensive backs helped to allow just 18 opponent plays of 20+ yards, which was the second fewest in the league.

In 2021, Merritt coached S Tyrann Mathieu to his third Pro Bowl. Mathieu led the team in interceptions with three, including a pick-six. S Dan Sorensen followed up close behind with two interceptions and a pick-six.

In 2020, Merritt coached S Tyrann Mathieu to his second-consecutive first team AP All-Pro nomination and third of his career, first at the safety position. Mathieu led all NFL safeties with six interceptions in the regular season, adding one in the postseason. Merritt also mentored rookie CB L'Jarius Sneed who showed a lot of potential in the nine games he saw action (six starts), snagging three interceptions, 2.0 sacks (-19.0 yards), and seven passes defensed.

In 2019, Merritt helped coach S Tyrann Mathieu to two AP All-Pro Team nominations, first team as a defensive back and second team as a safety. He was also voted by his teammates as the team's most valuable player with the Derrick Thomas award after ranking third in the NFL in passes defended amongst safeties with 12. He paired that with 75 tackles (63 solo), four interceptions, and 2.0 sacks en route to the Chiefs Super Bowl LIV victory.

Merritt joined Kansas City after spending the 2018 season with the defensive backs at the Arizona Cardinals, where he coached CB Patrick Peterson to his eighth career Pro Bowl. Merritt also coached S Budda Baker to a career high 104 tackles, six passes defensed and seven tackles for loss. Before the Cardinals, he spent 14 seasons with the New York Giants with stints as a defensive assistant (2004-2005) and secondary/safeties coach (2006-2017). Merritt worked there with the Chiefs current Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, where they led a defense that helped win Super Bowl XLII. He also went on to win Super Bowl XLVI, both teams under Head Coach Tom Coughlin.

With the Giants, he coached multiple Pro Bowlers: All-Pro S Antrel Rolle, S Landon Collins, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and CB Janoris Jenkins; Collins and Rolle both leading tacklers. During his tenure with the secondary/safeties, the Giants backfield recorded 198 interceptions, which was tied for sixth in the NFL during that time frame.

His coaching career in the NFL began as defensive assistant/linebacker coach for three seasons with the New York Jets (2001-2003) under Head Coach Herm Edwards and Defensive Coordinator Ted Cottrell. Prior to the Jets, he had two stops at the collegiate level, outside linebacker coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga (1997) and the same position along with defensive ends and defensive line at Virginia Military Institute (1998-2000).

While earning his Political Science degree, Merritt was a linebacker for the North Carolina State Wolfpack (1989-1992) and was named first team All-ACC (1992) after leading the conference in tackles. He was then drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the seventh round (1993), and also played three seasons for the Arizona Cardinals. In his last season before transitioning to coaching, he played for NFL Europe's Dusseldorf Rheinfire, who competed in the World Bowl Championship that year (1997).

A standout player from Millbrook High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, he was inducted to the school's first Hall of Fame class (2012).

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