Broncos interview 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who led league’s top-ranked defense in 2022

If the Broncos elect to hire a rookie head coach for a fourth straight time, DeMeco Ryans checks a lot of boxes.

The 49ers defensive coordinator, one of the hottest candidates in this year’s head coaching cycle, interviewed with the Broncos in person Thursday in the Bay Area. He’s also set to interview for head coach openings with the Colts, Texans, Cardinals and Panthers.

A former Pro Bowl linebacker for the Texans and Eagles across 10 seasons in the NFL, Ryans has risen quickly in the coaching ranks since starting with San Francisco as a defensive quality control assistant in 2017. He’s been the 49ers’ defensive coordinator the last two years, including helming the league’s top-ranked scoring defense in 2022 at 16.3 points per game during the regular season.

If you ask one well-respected Pro Bowler, Ryans is a can’t-miss hire as head coach.

“He just knows the feel of the players and he listens to players when he needs to, he makes the (right) calls when he needs to,” 49ers edge rusher Nick Bosa told CBS Sports. “He’s as good as it gets. He’s the best defensive coordinator I’ve ever been around, hands down.”

Of the Broncos’ seven known head coaching candidates, only Ryans, current Denver defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and Stanford’s David Shaw are missing previous NFL head coaching experience.

But Ryans’ stock is easily the highest of those three right now as the 49ers prepare for their divisional showdown Sunday at Levi’s Stadium against Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys.

This season, the 49ers ranked first in average yards allowed per game (300.6), second in rushing yards allowed per game (77.7) and 20th in passing yards allowed per game (222.9). San Francisco’s stout run offense offset a somewhat suspect secondary, while in the red zone, Ryans’ unit ranked 20th in scoring percentage, allowing a TD 56.8% of the time.

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The San Francisco defense helped carry the team to a top-two seed in the NFC playoffs in the wake of season-ending injuries to quarterbacks Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo. That’s helped reinforce Ryans’ belief that he made the right decision turning down a second interview last year for the Vikings’ head coach opening. That job eventually went to Kevin O’Connell.

“I still feel strongly about the decision I made and it was the correct decision for me and my family at the time,” Ryans told reporters Jan. 11.

The 38-year-old added that while his focus is on San Francisco’s playoff run, he’s “humbled” to be such a wanted head coaching candidate.

“It’s special to be able to be in a select group to have head coaching interviews and people requesting you,” Ryans said. “It’s a special moment, it’s a proud moment, and I’m very thankful and grateful just to be spoken of in that light.”

If Ryans is hired, the Broncos would still have a big question mark as to who will take over the offensive play-calling in 2023 and attempt to revive a Russell Wilson-led unit that ranked last in the NFL at 16.9 points per game.

Ryans insisted Thursday afternoon ahead of his interview that talk with Broncos brass wouldn’t affect his focus for San Francisco’s game against Dallas.

“I know how to make the main thing the main thing, and the main thing this week is the Cowboys,” Ryans told reporters. “Nobody is resting on what they’ve done or satisfied with what they’ve done (on the 49ers’ defense). I didn’t like the way we came out last week (against Seattle). That wasn’t representative of who we are. We can come out better, set the tempo better.”

Once the Ryans interview is complete, the Broncos will have one known first-round head coaching interview remaining, with Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn scheduled to meet with the team Friday. They interviewed former New Orleans head coach Sean Payton and Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris on Tuesday in California and completed interviews last week with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh (he’s since dropped out), Evero, Shaw and former Detroit and Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell.

If they are to ask for a second round of interviews with a finalist or finalists, those will likely happen next week in Denver.