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49ers DC candidate is brutally honest about team’s Super Bowl defeat, Wilks firing

Feb 29, 2024 at 7:19 PM--

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Kansas City Chiefs defensive backs coach Dave Merritt clearly has no qualms about speaking his mind. He is a candidate to replace former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who was fired following the team's Super Bowl defeat against the Chiefs.

Wilks spent just one season with the 49ers.

Merritt recently participated in a radio interview on "The Sports Show" and attributed at least part of the blame for San Francisco's crushing defeat to head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense.

"Their offense went 3-for-12 on third down," Merritt said, per Niners Wire. "Our offense went 9-for-19, but if your offense is going 3-for-12 on third down, is that Wilks' fault? If your tight end, who's All-Pro, Kittle, only has one catch for four yards, is that Wilks' fault? Therefore, you can feed [RB Christian] McCaffrey all you want to, but he needs help.

"And then number 11, who was trying to fight all game, Ako (Brandon Aiyuk), whatever, I don't know. He only had 40-something yards. Was that Wilks' fault? So, I just say that there was something going on before."

Some might feel it's not a good idea to criticize a potential employer while seeking a job with the organization, but head coach Kyle Shanahan did the same thing in 2017. He told CEO Jed York that the 49ers owned the worst roster in the NFL, and it might take years to undo the damage of the previous regime. That brutal honesty was part of the reason why Shanahan landed the job.

Of course, not knowing the name of one of the 49ers' best players, Brandon Aiyuk, might leave some fans scratching their heads. Merritt will likely learn players' names if he lands the defensive coordinator job in Santa Clara. For now, "number 11" might suffice.

Merritt's observation that Wilks' dismissal likely wasn't solely due to the defense's Super Bowl performance is accurate. While the unit held quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City's potent offense to only three points well into the third quarter, leaving Chiefs players frustrated on the sideline, it was an up-and-down 2023 campaign for Wilks' defense.

The 49ers experienced a three-game losing streak during the regular season, where the defense allowed nearly 400 total yards per game. During the playoffs, the unit allowed an average of almost 150 rushing yards per game, including 130 in the Super Bowl.

The decision to fire Wilks came after Shanahan reflected on the defense's performance throughout the season.

"A really tough decision because it really says nothing about Steve as a man or as a football coach," Shanahan said of Wilks' dismissal. "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."

Merritt is one of two known outside candidates in the running for the 49ers' defensive coordinator position, the other being former Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley.

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