Two weeks after moving on from defensive coordinator Steve Wilks following the team’s Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan hired from inside the building to fill the role by promoting defensive passing game specialist/nickels coach Nick Sorensen, according to reports.

The 49ers interviewed five candidates for the job, including 49ers defensive backs coach Daniel Bullocks internally, along with former Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, Kansas City Chiefs defensive backs coach Dave Merritt and Las Vegas Raiders defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander.

According to reports, along with promoting Sorensen, Shanahan is bringing on Staley as assistant head coach. San Francisco had an opening at assistant head coach with another former Chargers head coach in Anthony Lynn moving on to serve as run-game coordinator for the Washington Commanders.

By promoting Sorensen and hiring Staley, the 49ers get the best of both worlds. There was a disconnect between Shanahan and Wilks, who ran a different defensive scheme than San Francisco had recently used. Hehad to adapt to one that had been executed by former defensive coordinators DeMeco Ryans and Robert Saleh.

Sorensen has plenty of experience running the Seattle Cover 3 scheme Shanahan prefers. He spent eight seasons working under Pete Carroll with the Seattle Seahawks as a secondary coach and special-teams assistant coach. He also played 10 seasons in the NFL as a safety and special-teams player.

Sorensen has been with San Francisco since 2022, knows the players on the defensive side of the ball well and should have a better plan to connect the secondary with what’s happening up front with the front seven.

“When you have some good players who have played at a high level and done it a certain way, I’m not just trying to change that,” Shanahan told reporters after moving on from Wilks. “I lean towards trying to keep them doing similar stuff that they’ve been very good at that’s got us very far. 

“But I have to make sure that I find the right person who’s capable of leading our group in that way. That the standard of how we have done it and the belief that we’ll continue to get better at it, I believe in with whoever I choose to do this for us.”

With Staley, the 49ers added someone intimately familiar with the 3-4 hybrid, two-high-safety system favored by longtime NFL defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who served in the role for San Francisco when Jim Harbaugh was the team’s head coach. Harbaugh replaced Staley as head coach of the Chargers. 

Is firing Steve Wilks a bad look for 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan?

Staley also knows San Francisco’s NFC West division rivals, the Los Angeles Rams, well from his time there as a defensive coordinator.

It’s also worth noting Staley has overseen one of the worst defenses in the league during his time with the Chargers. The Bolts ranked No. 28 in total defense last season. And having him on staff as a former defensive coordinator and possible replacement for Sorensen if things go badly could prove an awkward situation for both. Staley also interviewed for his former job as defensive coordinator for the Rams, but Sean McVay went with an in-house hire of Chris Shula to fill that role instead.

Sorensen has never called plays defensively or been the leader of the defensive side of the ball, so there’s a risk in how he will make that transition for a team that’s expected to compete for a Super Bowl. 

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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