49ers oust defensive coordinator Steve Wilks after Super Bowl loss to Chiefs


The San Francisco 49ers suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in Super Bowl LVIII. The Niners defense surrendered a touchdown in the extra period en route to the 22-25 defeat.

Less than 72 hours after the game, head coach Kyle Shanahan decided to make a change. First-year defensive coordinator Steve Wilks was relieved of his duties on Wednesday, Shanahan announced. 

“This morning I relieved Steve Wilks of his duties,” Shanahan said in a conference call. 

“[We’re] going to end up making a change here at defensive coordinator. A really tough decision, because [it] really says nothing about Steve as a man or as a football coach. I mean, he’s exactly what we wanted as a man. He is a great football coach.”

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Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks of the San Francisco 49ers walks onto the field during team entrances before Super Bowl LVIII against the Kansas City Chiefs at Allegiant Stadium on February 11, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Ryan Kang/Getty Images)

Shannhan suggested that the 49ers defense needed a change in philosophy and that bringing in a new coordinator would ultimately be the best thing for the team moving forward.

“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 to these last few days, I felt pretty strongly that this was a decision that was best for the organization.”

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Earlier in the week, Shanahan mostly avoided directly answering questions on whether Wilks would be retained for a second season. He instead offered a blanket statement about the coaching staff.

“I haven’t talked to anybody yet,” he responded to a follow-up question on Wilks’ future as the Niners defensive coordinator. “So yeah, I expect all our coaches to be back.”

Wilks was presumably included in that group of coaches, but by Wednesday Shanahan came to the conclusion that he needed to go in “a different direction.” 

Steve Wilks vs Rams

Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks of the San Francisco 49ers on the sideline during the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Levis Stadium on January 7, 2024 in Santa Clara, California. (Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

The 49ers roster is filled with star players on the defensive side of the ball, which likely meant Wilks was taking over a job where he would be required to meet high expectations. 

The Niners had somewhat of an up and down 2023 season, after a mostly dominant 2022 campaign under DeMeco Ryans. Ryans left San Francisco in January 2023 to take the Texans head coaching job. Nevertheless, the 49ers finished in the top three in points allowed this past season.

Wilks’ unit did have multiple disappointing moments in the postseason, especially when it came to defending the run. The Packers, Lions, and Chiefs average 5.1 yards per carry in the playoffs in games against the Niners. Shanahan did take some ownership of some of the issues, admitting he wanted Wilks to run the same scheme that Ryans and Robert Saleh previously did.

Steve Wilks coaches up his team

Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks of the San Francisco 49ers with the defensive line on the sideline during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on December 17, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

“I knew that was a challenge,” Shanahan acknowledged. “It was real tough losing DeMeco. It was tough losing Saleh the year before. We had committed to not just the system, but the players that had been in the system, from our D-line or linebackers. They had played in it for such a long time.

“It was my goal to not have to change all of them, and bringing in Steve, who was unbelievable how loyal he was and him trying to do it, but it just ended up not being the right fit. And it hurt for me to do this, but that’s exactly why I had to.”

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Shanahan hopes the next coordinator will already be familiar with the scheme and has a knack for marrying the defensive front with the secondary.

“You want to tie things together and Steve was always working to do that,” Shanahan said. “There’s no doubt about that. But it was just for his background and how it ended up with us, it was harder than it needed to be and I felt it would improve us going a different direction.”

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