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AP: 49ers promote Sorensen to defensive coordinator, hire Chargers' Staley as an assistant

SANTA CLARA -- The San Francisco 49ers have promoted assistant Nick Sorensen to defensive coordinator and hired former Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley for a role on the team's staff, a person familiar with the hirings told The Associated Press.

The person confirmed the hirings to the AP on condition of anonymity Saturday because the team hadn't made an announcement. ESPN first reported the hirings.

The Niners had been looking for a defensive coordinator since firing Steve Wilks three days after losing the Super Bowl to the Kansas City Chiefs.

San Francisco's defense ranked third in points allowed last season and was in the top 10 in advanced efficiency metrics like Expected Points Added and Defense-adjusted Value Over Average in the first season with Wilks in charge in place of DeMeco Ryans, who left to take over in Houston.

But Wilks struggled to adapt to the system head coach Kyle Shanahan wanted to use and the defense struggled all season against the run and came up short in the playoffs, leading to the decision to make a change.

The Niners were the first team to fire an offensive or defensive coordinator after losing the Super Bowl since Atlanta fired defensive coordinator Richard Smith after blowing a 28-3 lead to New England in Super Bowl 51. Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the Falcons in that game and left to take over San Francisco following the loss.

The team interviewed several candidates, including both Sorensen and Staley, before Shanahan made a final decision.

49ers Defensive Coordinator Football
49ers nickels coach Nick Sorensen heads to the field before a game against the Jaguars, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023. The 49ers promoted Sorensen to defensive coordinator and hired former Chargers coach Brandon Staley for a role on the team's staff. Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP

Sorensen initially joined San Francisco's staff as a defensive assistant in 2022 when he worked with linebackers when Johnny Holland was out dealing with cancer, and he was in charge of the passing defense and nickel backs last season.

Sorensen also has run weekly meetings focused on creating turnovers during his time in San Francisco.

Sorensen previously served as special teams coach in Jacksonville in 2021 and spent eight seasons in Seattle as an assistant for the secondary and special teams, where the Seahawks used a similar defensive philosophy to the 49ers.

Sorensen played quarterback for two seasons in college at Virginia Tech before moving to defense in 1999 when Michael Vick took over. Sorensen then played 10 seasons as a defensive back in the NFL before beginning his coaching career.

Staley was fired as Chargers head coach in December with a 24-24 record in two-plus regular seasons. Los Angeles' defense struggled under Staley, ranking in the bottom half of the league each season in defensive metrics.

Staley has one year of experience as a coordinator, leading the the Los Angeles Rams to the No. 1-ranked defense in 2020 before taking over the Chargers.

He brings a background of a different defensive system, having learned under longtime NFL coordinator Vic Fangio. Shanahan wanted to maintain the same system that had been successful under Ryans and Robert Saleh, but Staley could add some new wrinkles.

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