NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at San Francisco 49ers
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers bypassed all of their internal defensive coordinator options last offseason.

With the NFL Combine in less than a week, the San Francisco 49ers are still without a defensive coordinator as their search continues following the departure of Steve Wilks, who was let go following the Super Bowl.

After the prominent opening gained significant traction last offseason, with several candidates interviewing for the position before the 49ers settled on Wilks, there has been virtually zero buzz this offseason regarding interviews for external candidates.

With the lack of buzz and a closing timeline, will the 49ers go with an internal option at defensive coordinator?

You can listen to the audio below, while the video form is available above.

Why internal options seem likely

The move to fire Steve Wilks seemed inevitable, given the defensive issues over the second half of the season and the apparent disconnect between the defensive coordinator and Kyle Shanahan, as well as some players.

However, the timing of the move (after the Super Bowl) makes it difficult for the 49ers to conduct a wide-ranging search to find their desired candidate.

Not only have a number of key names been taken off the board or are choosing to stay at their current destination, but San Francisco has a clock ticking with the NFL Combine just days away.

Add that to the fact that there have been no formally requested interviews for external candidates and it feels probable that San Francisco will target somebody in the building to fill the vacancy.

Additionally, the 49ers have gone internal in the past, promoting linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans to defensive coordinator after Robert Saleh left to be the head coach of the New York Jets.

The potential issues

Now, with any move, there’s going to be a level of risk, and that’ll be the case if the 49ers choose to hire internally to fill the hole this offseason.

First of all, none of San Francisco’s defensive coaches have playcalling experience, with a number of them serving as elite specialists for their position group.

While playcalling experience isn’t a big deal for me, given how the 49ers have succeeded in the past with first-time play-callers, it only intensifies the pressure on whoever is chosen to perform in 2024, especially with the precedent of a first-year coordinator being fired now established.

More importantly, however, the move would feel different because the 49ers had their entire arsenal of internal coaches to promote last offseason and ultimately didn’t carry through with that decision, hiring Steve Wilks, which didn’t go as anticipated.

If going the internal option, it would’ve been a much smoother transition to promote from within last offseason, providing a longer timeline for their new defensive coordinator to get established and capitalize on this current window with the main core group.

Going into last offseason, it felt that 2023-24 was the two-year window to win a championship with this core of players, as San Francisco will likely have some tough decisions to make next offseason.

By going away from an internal candidate and choosing Wilks, the 49ers took away one of those years to develop their defensive coordinator, making 2024 even more important from a play-calling perspective.

When it came to DeMeco Ryans, many people, myself included, questioned him early during his tenure for a few mistakes, but the defensive coordinator grew from the early issues to become an elite assistant in Year 2.

If the hire is internal, the new defensive coordinator doesn’t have that timeline to succeed, given how the core of the team could begin to dissolve after the season, only placing more pressure to get the move right this time around.

Additionally, head coach Kyle Shanahan had to add extra responsibilities this season, sometimes overriding Steve Wilks, which placed more on his plate.

While Shanahan has been labeled as “controlling” before, it seems he’d much prefer not to meddle with the defensive efforts and leave that area to his defensive coordinator.

But, if the move is internal, with a closing window, will Shanahan still look to have some influence on the defensive side or fully trust his next defensive coordinator with those responsibilities from the jump?

We’ll find out the answers to the questions only in the fall when the 49ers take the field again. However, their announcement on the next defensive coordinator could come sooner than later as the offseason is starting to pick up.

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About the Author: Insidethe49

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