San Francisco 49ers

49ers land new defensive coach with ties to Kyle Shanahan

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan yells play in the fourth quarter in game against the Seattle Seahawks during a game at the Levi’s Stadium on Sunday, December 16, 2018 in Santa Clara.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan yells play in the fourth quarter in game against the Seattle Seahawks during a game at the Levi’s Stadium on Sunday, December 16, 2018 in Santa Clara. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

The San Francisco 49ers have a new defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator after setting an NFL record for the fewest interceptions in a season with just two in 2018.

The team on Thursday announced the hiring of Joe Woods, who spent the last two seasons as the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator. He’ll replace Jeff Hafley who recently became a co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State.

“In addition to being a tremendous coach with a wealth of knowledge, Joe is a great person that we believe will help bring the best out of our players,” head coach Kyle Shanahan wrote in a statement.

“Since we first worked together in Tampa, Joe has continued to gain invaluable experience in different schemes and coverages that will benefit our defense. Anybody who is familiar with Joe as a coach knows that he is passionate about the fundamentals of the game and we look forward to seeing the impact he has on our team.”

Woods and Shanahan were both members of Jon Gruden’s staff with the Buccaneers in 2004 and 2005. Shanahan was an offensive quality control assistant while Woods worked as the defensive backs coach under legendary coordinator Monte Kiffin, who was among Pete Carroll’s top influences.

Carroll, of course, used Kiffin’s knowledge to help devise his defensive scheme with the Seahawks which the 49ers use under current coordinator Robert Saleh.

Woods, 48, was a defensive backs coach for 13 seasons before being named the Broncos coordinator in 2017. Denver ranked third and 22nd in total defense in those two seasons. Perhaps more importantly, the team logged 27 interceptions while San Francisco had just 12.

Woods’ priorities in his new role will include developing young defensive backs such as Ahkello Witherspoon, Tarvarius Moore, Jaquiski Tartt, D.J. Reed, Marcell Harris and Adrian Colbert. The 49ers could also make additions through the draft in free agency. Most notably, Seahawks All-Pro safety Earl Thomas is expected to hit the open market when the new league year begins in March.

Woods was a defensive backs coach in the NFL for 13 seasons before getting promoted to become the Broncos’ coordinator. He had stops at Tampa Bay (2004-2005), Minnesota (2006-2013) and Oakland (2014) before joining Denver in 2015.

The Broncos that season won Super Bowl 50 played in Levi’s Stadium and finished that season with the NFL’s top-ranked passing defense, allowing 199.6 yards per game.

Woods’ hiring is another coaching bridge the 49ers can connect with the Broncos this offseason. Denver earlier this month hired former coordinator Vic Fangio to become head coach. Fangio hired Ed Donatell, San Francisco’s former defensive backs coach, to be his coordinator.

And Fangio on Wednesday hired 49ers quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello to be his offensive coordinator. The Broncos are expected to keep running backs coach Curtis Modkins and tight ends coach Geep Chryst, who served San Francisco’s offensive coordinators in 2016 and 2015, respectively.

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