49ers Send Request to Interview Ex-Rival NFC West HC for New Opening

Steve Wilks

Getty Steve Wilks on December 24, 2022 before the Panthers and Lions game.

The San Francisco 49ers are already moving swiftly in trying to find the successor to DeMeco Ryans at defensive coordinator, after the highly coveted assistant was named head coach of the Houston Texans Tuesday, January 31.

And one name that was immediately requested per NFL insider Aaron Wilson: Former Carolina Panthers interim head coach and Ex-Arizona Cardinals head man Steve Wilks. Wilson revealed the 49ers sent out the request as the Texans were zeroing in on getting Ryans on board.

“49ers requested permission to interview former Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks for their expected defensive coordinator vacancy as the Texans are zeroing in on hiring DeMeco Ryans as their next head coach, per a league source,” Wilson tweeted.

Wilks Earned Respect of Panthers Before Team Went With Frank Reich

Wilks was the defensive coordinator when the Panthers were stomped on by the 49ers 37-15 on October 9 of the 2022 season. That game ended up being the last home Panthers contest for Christian McCaffrey and the last contest for Matt Rhule as head coach.

Wilks, who was previously with the Cardinals during the 2018 season, managed to keep the Panthers in contention for the NFC South title by going 6-6 the rest of the way and finishing just two games behind division winner Tampa Bay. Wilks became popular among Panther players for helping right the ship following the franchise’s first in-season head coaching dismissal and even earned endorsements from franchise greats Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen to elevate him to head coach.

The Panthers, though, decided to hire Frank Reich — who was the franchise’s first-ever starting quarterback when they entered the league in 1995. That prompted lawyers representing Wilks to sound off on his stunning passing for Reich per Front Office Sports.

Wilks, though, is now on the list for potential replacement for Ryans. While Wilks is already familiar with the NFC West, he’s a distinguished defensive whiz in the league who recently helped get edge rusher Brian Burns to shatter a career-best mark in sacks with 12.5 this past season, earning him a second straight Pro Bowl nod. Linebacker Frankie Luvu was another who thrived under Wilks by getting a new personal best of seven sacks while also finishing with his first career 100-tackle season (111 total). Wilks also got rookie Jaycee Horn to snatch a team-high three interceptions.

Other Names on 49ers Radar, Including Beloved Past Coordinator

Wilks isn’t just the lone name surfacing on the list to potentially replace Ryans.

Per CBS Sports HQ NFL insider Josina Anderson, two other names are in the fold: Former 49ers DC Vic Fangio and Washington Commanders defensive backs coach Chris Harris.

Fangio is a significant curveball. Not only is the 64-year-old got previous ties to the 49ers from 2011 to 2014 during their string of NFC Championship game runs and the Super Bowl 47 appearance, but Fangio was originally reported to have accepted a three-year deal to become the Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator per the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero on Sunday, January 29. Fangio, however, informed on Monday, January 30 that “nothing has been decided on my end” via Michael Silver of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Meanwhile, Harris is the first external candidate for the coordinator opening for the 49ers. The former NFL safety has no previous ties to the organization. Harris’ DB group snatched eight of Washington’s nine interceptions this past season.

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