49ers insist Steve Wilks change is very normal and not a big deal

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San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks speaks to reporters after NFL football training camp Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif.

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks speaks to reporters after NFL football training camp Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif.

Godofredo A. Vásquez/AP

The team announced the move Wednesday, and it was reportedly something that Wilks and head coach Kyle Shanahan had “talked about for a little bit.” Of course, the backdrop to this decision is the Niners’ three-game losing streak, which has featured many troubling defensive lapses.

Appearing on KNBR on Friday morning, Lynch said that he saw the move as “a positive thing” and that this was actually a return to normalcy for the rest of the team.

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“First of all, it’s what our players have been accustomed to,” Lynch said. “Robert Saleh was on the field. DeMeco Ryans was on the field.”

It’s worth noting that Wilks decided not to continue the tradition of being an on-field coordinator back in the spring because “he tended to be too emotional when he was around the players,” according to ESPN. Perhaps the Niners could have avoided the rampant speculation about this move if they showed Wilks a single clip of what Saleh looked like on the sideline during his tenure in San Francisco.

The exec then made a point to note this decision was not made out of a panic, or without any legitimate thought.

“Ultimately, it’s not a reactionary thing,” Lynch said. “I think there’s also a step where Steve was calling it to [linebackers coach] Johnny Holland, and Johnny to Fred [Warner]. Sometimes the call’s maybe a little later, and I think this takes a middle man out of that. And not that Johnny or — it’s just one more step that you eliminate.”

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The Hall of Famer then said his favorite defensive coordinator of all time, Monte Kiffin, had great communication with him on the field, an approach he preferred as a player. Lynch concluded, “It’s a move Kyle made, and I think it’s a good one.”

It would be one thing if the Niners came out and said “we’ve lost three in a row, including two that were absolutely winnable, something had to change.” Instead, the team has gone with the nothing-to-see-here approach, which has left more questions than answers. Case in point, Lynch’s particularly thorough answer was in response to a simple what-are-your-thoughts question on a local radio spot. It was almost as if he was answering the many questions Wilks and Shanahan had been asked during their respective media appearances in advance.

Wilks, for example, told reporters on Thursday, “Just very candid, I think we’re making a bigger deal out of it than it needs to be, to be honest.”

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Shanahan on Wednesday went as far to say how much he loved the coach’s box as a coordinator, but then why is he moving his outside-hire coach from a place he describes as “the best spot” if it’s so good? The company response hones in on linebacker communication, but then why did Lynch talk about eliminating a “middle man” in the line of communication, and why was this Wilks’ response when asked about communication problems from the booth?

“No, none whatsoever,” Wilks said Thursday. “Again, the coaches do a tremendous job in communicating with those guys. I just felt the need to be able to want to communicate directly. Nothing with the coaches have been doing. As I said before, doing a great job. I just want to feel a little bit more present on the sideline.”

This reasoning also pokes holes in Lynch’s “it’s not a reactionary thing” argument, as clearly there must have been something to make the Niners feel as though linebacker communication with Wilks needed to be improved.

Whatever the case, Sunday’s game against Jacksonville is now that much more important as a result of this move, and the lack of proper explanation behind it, ahead of it. If Wilks thought that reporters were already “making a bigger deal out of it than it needs to be” before, losing a fourth straight game will almost certainly give him a new perspective on that.

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