Steve Wilks sees Nick Bosa in a Brian Urlacher, Luke Kuechly mold as a person

Jun 7, 2023, 6:00 PM | Updated: 6:11 pm

Head coach Steve Wilks of the Carolina Panthers looks on during the second half of the game against...

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 27: Head coach Steve Wilks of the Carolina Panthers looks on during the second half of the game against the Denver Broncos at Bank of America Stadium on November 27, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

San Francisco 49ers’ new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has been around the NFL for a long time.

The 53-year-old first entered the league in 2006 as a defensive backs coach for the Chicago Bears. Wilks would continue to be a secondary specialist for the next 12 years, finally landing the head coaching gig with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018. While that experience wasn’t fruitful, he continued to bounce around coaching staffs in the NFL and college until 2022.

Then a coordinator with the Carolina Panthers, Wilks was promoted to interim head coach after Matt Rhule was let go midseason. Leading Carolina to a solid 6-6 record to close out the season, he was passed over for the permanent role. But, just like in years past, he found his footing, landing with the 49ers as their new DC.

Despite the ups-and-downs over the years, it’s all part of the gig for him. Besides, what’s more important is the relationships he makes coaching young athletes. What matters most to Wilks, is the person, not the player you are. That same philosophy applies to reigning defensive player of the year Nick Bosa.

“I think I told you guys this from day one. I’m about relationships,” Steve Wilks told the media Wednesday. “So it was more about trying to learn him as a person. And I think as you get to learn him as a person, then now you get a feel for the player and then you can put him in position.”

Coming off his most dominant year in the NFL, the 25-year-old Bosa is set to become the highest-paid defensive player after this season. And while the money is nice, that’s not what fuels the pass rusher to be better. Few athletes have the desire to compete and improve like Bosa, forcing himself to take days off this offseason to better prepare his body.

Those attributes stuck out to his new coach immediately.

“One of the things we talked about is just his commitment to this game and him still trying to get better, defensive player of the year and ‘Can I take the next step? Can I do it again?’ He has that focus and determination, so I just love coaching guys like that. It’s not about my status. It’s definitely not about the money. He’s committed to trying to be one of the best,” Wilks explained.

The veteran coach hates to compare current players to the past, but with Bosa it’s a little different. Seeing similar qualities donned by hall-of-famers in previous regimens, Steve Wilks hopes to help the Floridian one day reach Canton, Ohio. Calling to mind two former All-Pro linebackers, Bosa’s focus is now on cementing his legacy with the 49ers, and the NFL. And Steve Wilks knows how to help with that.

“The first one who comes to mind is [former Carolina Panthers LB] Luke Kuechly, [HOF LB] Brian Urlacher, guys that just committed to that craft and trying to get better each and every day,” Wilks stated. “And all those guys that I just mentioned along with Bosa are about really trying to create a legacy and that was probably one of the things that I did talk about beyond just him as a person. It’s just, what are we building towards now, which is each step is towards Canton. I think that’s his mindset as well, but he has to stay in the moment each and every day, be where your feet are and take it as it comes, but ultimately, that’s his goal.”

Before he took the job with the Red & Gold, Wilks already had a few improvements in mind for San Francisco’s defense.

Ranked first overall in most metrics, the 49ers struggled with giving up explosive plays in 2022. That’s the first thing the new DC wants to address. Secondly, turn interceptions into touchdowns. In his eyes, the fastest way to a victory is through the air on both sides of the football.

It wouldn’t be an easy fix and Wilks knows that. That’s why during his “summer vacation”, he’ll be studying film at his home in Boone, North Carolina. Rest assured, they’ll be some time for relaxing with family, but his main focus is on the season ahead. Because like Bosa, he also has a gold-jacket mentality.

“You’re never really on vacation,” he said.


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