Niners Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryans Deserves The Same Credit We Give White Coordinators When They Do Well

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The San Francisco 49ers are surprisingly headed to the NFC Championship Game, due in large part to a stout defense led by DeMeco Ryans, the outstanding defensive coordinator.

The Niners defense completely stymied the Cowboys and Packers in road playoff upsets, holding them to a combined 27 points. Those teams finished No. 1 and No. 10, respectively, in total offense this season.

The former Defensive Rookie of the Year, All-Pro and Pro Bowl linebacker with the Houston Texans has made a quick ascension up the coaching ranks. He began as a quality control coach with the team in 2017. His second season he was promoted to the Niners inside linebackers coach, a position he held until this season.

Former Niners defensive coordinator and current Jets head coach Robert Saleh spoke highly of Ryans in a postgame presser last season

“DeMeco is well spoken. He’s got a lot of respect from his players. He’s incredibly intelligent. He’s a sponge for knowledge. Even though he played in the league, I see him take notes every day. Coach is talking, he’s taking notes. I’m talking he’s taking notes. DB coach is talking, he’s taking notes.
He’s an absolute sponge in that regard. It tells you he’s not just going to take a system and go, he’s going to evolve. Because of that, he’s got a really good chance to evolve and be a head coach one day.”

Niners Have Been Good In All Major Defensive Categories Under Ryans

Despite numerous injuries to key players on the defensive side of the football, Ryans’ unit has been outstanding. During the regular season the Niners ranked third in total yards, ninth in points, seventh against the run and sixth against the pass. Ryans has shown an ability to make adjustments, none bigger than fixing the team’s run defense. After being gashed early in the season for 131.0 yards per game, Ryans made some changes.

He tinkered with the defensive line, and that in itself helped San Francisco slow teams down on the ground. In fact they only allowed 77 yards per game on the ground over the back half of the season. To help his struggling secondary, Ryans played more cover two while constantly generating pressure up front with his four down linemen. The move to put edge rusher Arik Armstead (career high 10 sacks) inside on passing downs to get Arden Key (6.5 sacks) as a third-down pass rusher was brilliant.

Ryans Has The Respect Of Teammates, Coaches and Upper Management: He’s A Future Head Coach

Ryans interviewed for the Vikings job on Sunday. If Vikings ownership is smart, Ryans will be seriously considered and not just given a token interview to satisfy the league’s Rooney Rule.

Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan knows how good of a defensive mind Ryans is and says he possesses the qualities to make a fine head coach.

“I’ve seen head coach qualities out of DeMeco when he was a player, when he was a quality control coach, when he was a linebacker coach, and now when he’s a coordinator. So he has all those qualities. It’s just about him getting those reps and getting the experience. It’s a matter of time with him.
“And he has already got enough experience, a if a team comes calling, they’ll get a hell of a one, but I don’t want to lose him yet. So hopefully for my sake, the Niners sake, they let him get a few more years here, but I know he’s ready.”

Teams shouldn’t think too hard about handing a young talent like Ryans the keys. Mike Tomlin got his first top job at 34 years old. He impressed the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first fifteen minutes. Word on the gridiron is DeMeco Ryans may be the same caliber of coach.


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