Surprise candidate emerges in 49ers’ search for next defensive coordinator

The 49ers’ search for a defensive coordinator is not unconnected to Super Bowl LVIII.

Dave Merritt, the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive backs coach, is the fourth known candidate to be interviewed by the 49ers, who fell 25-22 in overtime to the Chiefs on Feb.11 in Las Vegas.

Coach Kyle Shanahan dismissed Steve Wilks three days after that defeat, terminating Wilks’ one-year term.

Merritt’s candidacy was confirmed by a league source, and it was first reported by Mike Garafolo of NFL Media.

Shanahan also has interviewed former Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley and 49ers pass-game specialist Nick Sorensen, with secondary coach Daniel Bullocks another in-house candidate.

Merritt, 52, has coached the Chiefs’ defensive backs since 2019, and among those who’ve excelled in their secondary was Charvarius Ward, who signed with the 49ers in free agency two years ago and emerged as a Pro Bowl cornerback this season.

Merritt was an Arizona Cardinals’ linebacker from 1993-95 before joining the coaching ranks. He’s won five Super Bowl rings as a defensive assistant, including two with the New York Giants (2014-17) and three with the Chiefs (2019-23).

Merritt was a defensive backs coach in 2018 with the Arizona Cardinals, whose head coach that season was Wilks.

Merritt has no experience as an NFL coordinator, nor does Sorensen or Bullocks; Staley was the 2020 Los Angeles Rams’ defensive coordinator before becoming coach of the Chargers, who dismissed him last season after a 5-9 start.

Shanahan is seeking his fourth defensive coordinator in five seasons, having seen Robert Saleh (2017-20) and DeMeco Ryans (20221-22) leave for head-coaching posts with the New York Jets and the Houston Texans, respectively.



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