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Speculation ends as 49ers hire a defensive coordinator...and an assistant head coach

Marc Adams
Mar 2, 2024 at 8:38 AM--

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The San Francisco 49ers have been searching for a defensive coordinator to replace Steve Wilks, who they cut ties with after the loss in Super Bowl LVIII. And apparently, the team has also been searching for an assistant head coach after losing Anthony Lynn to the Washington Commanders.

ESPN's Adam Schefter and Jeremy Fowler both reported early Saturday morning that the 49ers are promoting their defensive passing game specialist, Nick Sorensen, as their new defensive coordinator, and are hiring former Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley for a "prominent staff role, possibly assistant head coach." Coincidentally, Staley, who was also in consideration for the defensive coordinator job, will be the second former head coach of the Chargers to join Kyle Shanahan's staff as an assistant head coach. Lynn was the first.

Fans and media have been speculating who might be the 49ers next defensive coordinator. While some hoped to see the team hire from within, as was the case in 2021 with DeMeco Ryans, others hoped San Francisco would hire someone from outside the organization, like they did a year ago with Wilks. And because Wilks was considered a bad fit, the assumption was that ultimately an internal hire would be the choice, for continuity's sake.

When GM John Lynch spoke with the media on Tuesday, from the NFL Scouting Combine, he said the 49ers weren't going to stray too far from their defensive philosophy and scheme. "We know who we are, who we're going to be, and that's not going to make a wholesale schematic change there," Lynch said. "We feel good about where we're at."

That seemed to make it apparent that Staley was out, but Matt Barrows, of The Athletic, reported that in an informal meeting with a handful of local reporters after the press conference, Lynch made sure to say that was not the case and that Staley was still a candidate. "He's a really bright dude," Lynch said. "We have an open mind, but we do know there's certain core principles that we're going to always be on the defensive side. I wouldn't rule him out because of that."

And now it appears that both coaches will be added to Shanahan's staff.

Sorensen, who's only been with the 49ers for two seasons, has been in the NFL for 21 years (10 years as a player and 11 years as a coach). He played in one Super Bowl and has now coached in three Super Bowls, winning one with the Seattle Seahawks. So while he's been with the 49ers for only two seasons, he's been in the same defensive system for more than a decade.

Some fans were hoping defensive backs coach Daniel Bullocks would be the choice if the 49ers stayed in-house, but Shanahan ultimately decided Sorensen was his guy. And now the new defensive coordinator is tasked with helping this talented defense get even better.

At this point, it's still unclear what role Staley will have. He's reportedly being added as assistant head coach, but what other responsibilities will he have? He led the top-ranked defense in the league while with the Rams in 2020, but he struggled as a head coach. And when the Rams needed to hire a new defensive coordinator earlier this offseason, they chose not to reunite with Staley.

We will have to see how this all plays out, but for now, the 49ers have a new defensive coordinator...and a new assistant head coach.

Sorensen has been responsible for running the 49ers weekly meeting called "The Ball," which emphasizes creating turnovers. You can watch Ross Tucker's interview with Sorensen before the Super Bowl in the video below.


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