Spring 2021 Magazine

DeMeco Ryans promoted to 49ers defensive coordinator, remains sustained by Jesus

With the San Francisco 49ers boasting one of the NFL’s top defenses the past two seasons, many figured it was only a matter of time until defensive coordinator Robert Saleh became a head coach somewhere. Last week he was announced as the new leader for the New York Jets.

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Saleh’s vacancy was filled Monday, when the 49ers announced that the team’s inside linebackers coach, DeMeco Ryans, was being promoted to defensive coordinator.

The 49ers were driven by the NFL’s second-ranked defense last season en route to Super Bowl LIV, a 31-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. This year, despite a 6-10 record, the Niners still ranked fifth in the league (allowing 314.4 yards per game). Yet, the team’s only defensive All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 2020, largely thanks to Ryans, was middle linebacker Fred Warner.

Warner pointed to Ryans for helping him get there.

“He started as an LB coach the same year I came in as a rookie, and the progress you’ve seen me make is a direct reflection of the type of coach and person that he is,” Warner told the media. “He’s so passionate about what he does. It’s not a mystery why he was so successful (as a player) in the NFL. He’s such a smart mind and him and Saleh are very similar in that way where they’re both really smart and know exactly what they want. … He’s an amazing teacher. I’ve learned so much from him and continue to learn so much, and I think that’s the key to being a great coach.”

Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan hinted that Ryans would be promoted during a press conference on Jan. 4.

“It’s only a matter of time before DeMeco is a coordinator in this league,” Shanahan said. “It’s a matter of time before DeMeco will be a head coach.”

Ryans played 10 years in the NFL, six with the Houston Texans and four with the Philadelphia Eagles. He earned two trips to the Pro Bowl in 2007 and ’09. Houston made Ryans a second-round pick in 2006 after he was a consensus All-American and SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 with Alabama.

It’s been a quick rise for Ryans, 36, in the coaching ranks. He retired in 2015 and joined San Francisco’s staff as a defensive quality control coach in 2017. He was promoted to inside linebackers coach in 2018.

Throughout his time in the NFL, Ryans has relied on a strong faith in God. He sees his position as an NFL coach as a blessing, and he knows he needs to stay grounded in God’s Word to continue to do his job well. He’s an active participant in a coaches’ Bible study led by team chaplain Earl Smith.

“It just reminds you that you got to keep the main thing the main thing,” Ryans told Sports Spectrum last year about the Bible study. “That’s why we’re all here, and that’s by the grace of God. Why are we in the position that we’re in? Why are we able to do what we do? That’s by God blessing us with this awesome opportunity to reach back and teach these young men, help these young men, but we have to stay grounded in the Word. We can get caught up in our work, a lot of long hours, a lot of long days, but you can’t forget what sustains us, and that’s Jesus Christ.”

Ryans’ faith journey began when he was a child, as his mother made sure he went to church, read the Bible and prayed. As he grew older, he realized that faith in Christ was the most important thing in life.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but I’m so happy for my mom instilling that into me at a young age,” Ryans told Sports Spectrum, “because now as I continue to grow older and older, that’s the only thing that truly matters. That’s the only thing, our relationship with Jesus Christ.”

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