Steve Wilks is no stranger to adversity, and the 49ers defensive coordinator is leaning on his past experience to help him navigate San Francisco’s recent rough patch.
The 49ers’ defense hasn’t lived up to expectations under Wilks, who San Francisco hired last offseason to replace DeMeco Ryans. But after three straight losses, Wilks refuses to press any panic button.
“I can honestly say I’m kind of built for this,” Wilks told reporters Thursday of recent criticism leveled at him. “Not in an arrogant way, but I always thought there were two things: it’s what you hear and what you listen to. So I hear a lot of outside noise. I don’t listen to it, good or bad. As you mentioned, I’ve been doing this for a while and I understand the emotions of this game and what we’re playing at this level. I try not to get emotional. We’re five and three, the The level is so high here, it’s true, (and) we’ve lost three in a row, that everyone feels like the ceiling is collapsing on us.
“We are in a good position. We need to turn things around. We have a lot of football ahead of us. We want to start progressing, improve in November and start playing our best in December. I saw that, I been through this, I can handle it. I’m the new guy. That’s what it is. I have confidence in myself. Most importantly, I have confidence in these players and in the coaches that we’re together with. and we will get through this.
It’s no surprise that Wilks remains unfazed by his critics. His stoic demeanor stands in stark contrast to the excitable Ryans and his predecessor Robert Saleh, who became famous for their sideline celebrations while coaching the 49ers defense.
Wilks coached the 49ers’ first eight games from the coaching booth, but on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars he will be on the sideline. The move had less to do with on-field antics and more to do with streamlining San Francisco’s communication between its defenders and coordinator.
As the 49ers look to turn things around in Week 10 after their bye, the defense is searching for its identity. And like San Francisco, which has won five straight games to start the season, Wilks has experienced the highest of highs the NFL has to offer as well as the lowest of lows.
He was fired from the Arizona Cardinals’ top job after just one season when he coached the team to a league-worst 3-13 record in 2018, just three seasons after reaching the Super Bowl in as assistant head coach of the Carolina Panthers. Wilks then spent a season as a DC for the Cleveland Browns, coached defense for a year at Mizzou, then returned to the NFL with the Panthers last season before joining the 49ers in 2023.
Given everything he’s seen, Wilks prefers to look ahead and believes the 49ers defense has what it takes to break out of this rut and contribute to victory.
“You know, I try to stay out of the past,” Wilks told reporters. “When I say that, the obvious is the obvious, but dwelling on the last three weeks isn’t really going to change what we’re trying to do. And our focus since we got back, it’s just one at a time . “Let’s refocus to do what we need to do to get this game. I think we know in previous games we were there, we played hard. We have to go execute. We have to play it when given the chance.
“I still have to do a better job of just putting them in better positions, which I think is going to help them execute.”
Download and follow the 49ers Talk podcast