Sources – 49ers promote Sorensen to DC, add Staley to staff

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — After a deliberate search that included internal and external candidates, the San Francisco 49ers have their new defensive coordinator. That's not the only significant addition to the team's coaching staff.

The Niners are promoting defensive pass game specialist and nickel cornerbacks coach Nick Sorensen to defensive coordinator, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter and Jeremy Fowler on Saturday. The team is expected to hire former Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley as an assistant head coach, sources said.

At the NFL scouting meeting in Indianapolis this week, 49ers general manager John Lynch said the team is in “no rush” to hire a coordinator, but reiterated what coach Kyle Shanahan said when he announced Wilks' firing that San Francisco didn't want to be distracted. It's a far cry from what it has done defensively over the past seven years.

“We know who we are and who we're going to be, and it's not going to be a total program change there,” Lynch said. “We feel good about where we are.”

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Lynch's words hinted at the prospect of him being hired in-house as part of the reason Shanahan made the switch from Wilkes to the defensive scheme San Francisco used under former coordinators Robert Salle and DeMeco Ryans.

In Sorenson, the Niners need to maintain the continuity that Shanahan and Lynch sought. While this will be Sorensen's first time as a coordinator, he will be with the Niners in 2022 as a defensive assistant. In his second season, he was promoted to defensive pass play specialist and put in charge of the Nickelbacks.

Sorensen's previous duties with the Niners included conducting the team's weekly meeting known as “The Ball,” which emphasized winning the turnover battle.

Before his arrival in San Francisco, Sorensen spent the 2021 season as the Jacksonville Jaguars' special teams coach. Prior to that, Sorensen spent eight years (2013-20) with the Seattle Seahawks as the assistant special teams coach, assistant defensive backs coach and secondary coach.

Sorenson's history working with Pete Carroll in Seattle could be especially valuable considering the Niners run a version of that defensive scheme that focuses on the four before attacking paired with mostly zone coverage in the back end.

At Staley, 49 adds another veteran voice to its staff. As assistant head coach, Staley replaced Anthony Lynn, who left San Francisco after two seasons, as the run game coordinator and running backs coach for the Washington Commanders.

Staley spent the last two-plus seasons as the Chargers coach, but before that was the Los Angeles Rams' defensive coordinator in 2020, having previously served as the outside linebackers coach for the Chicago Bears (2017-18) and Denver Broncos (2019).

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Staley's defensive background is different from what the Niners plan to do, Lynch said in Indianapolis, which doesn't preclude Staley from being a potential addition to the staff.

“He's a very bright fellow,” Lynch said. “We have an open mind, but we know there are certain fundamentals that we're always going to be on the defensive side. So I wouldn't rule him out.”

Along with Sorenson, Staley is one of five known interviews for the defensive coordinator job. He spoke with Niners secondary coach Daniel Bullocks, Kansas City Chiefs defensive backs coach Dave Merritt and Las Vegas Raiders defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander.

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