Steve Wilks balancing 49ers' defensive success, adding fresh ideas

New 49ers DC Wilks balancing team's success, adding ideas originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SANTA CLARA — Steve Wilks appeared to do more than enough after taking over as the Carolina Panthers’ interim coach last season to retain the permanent job.

Instead, the Panthers went in a different direction and hired Frank Reich.

And that provided 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan with an opportunity to pounce on the highly respected coach.

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The 49ers hired Wilks to replace defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, whom the Houston Texans announced on Jan. 31 as the sixth head coach in franchise history. Wilks said it was important for him to find a situation for his next job where he could join a group of high-performing individuals.

“I think that's the key to everything that you do: You can have the talent and the skillset, but you need players," Wilks said. "You need an organization that's committed. You need a head coach and a GM that's aligned with one another and when the opportunity came when I got the phone call, this was a perfect fit for me.”

Wilks, 53, took over as Carolina's interim coach when Matt Rhule was fired after the Panthers' 1-4 start. The Panthers finished 6-6 in Wilks' 12 games and made a push for the postseason.

Now, he takes over a defense with the 49ers that ranked best in the NFL last season in both yards and points allowed.


Wilks met with the Bay Area media Friday for the first time since joining the 49ers. He said he plans to find a balance between sticking with what worked in the past along with bringing in some fresh ideas.

“You have to embrace the success they’ve had here,” Wilks said. “I think there’s a foundation we all agreed we want to keep. I think there’s an opportunity as we go through the process — which we already have — to tweak things a little bit.

“I still think there’s room for improvement. If you talk to the players, they will tell you the same. When it’s not broke, you don’t really want to fix it.”

RELATED: McCaffrey believes Wilks will fit in with 49ers

Wilks said he believes the 49ers’ defensive talent allows for him tailor game plans to challenge the weaknesses of the opposition. He said he could be more apt to call more man coverage and turn loose linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw to attack the line of scrimmage.


“At times, do I want to be a little more aggressive with the talent and athleticism we have at linebacker, yes,” he said.

Warner, a two-time All-Pro player, has 6.5 sacks in his first five NFL seasons, including two last season. Greenlaw has just two sacks in 47 career games.

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