Cardinals 49ers Football

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans stands during an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Jan.8, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Scot Tucker)

“Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. While others search for what they can take, a true king searches for what he can give.’’ — Mufasa

DeMeco Montrez Ryans, one of three finalists for NFL assistant coach of the year, is the leading candidate to become the Broncos head coach.

DeMeco is as shrewd, strong, sharp, savvy and steadfast as his nickname “Mufasa’’ from “The Lion King’’ implies.

Two well-founded NFL sources told The Gazette on Wednesday that the 49ers’ defensive coordinator will interview a second time with the Broncos and the Texans next week, and both teams are expected to make him an offer to become their head coach. If the 49ers win the NFC Championship, the hiring will have to wait until after the Super Bowl.

(In 1995, the Broncos hired San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan as head coach the Monday following the Super Bowl.)

Ryans has played or coached under former or current head coaches Kyle Shanahan, Gary Kubiak, Andy Reid, Wade Phillips, Robert Saleh and Chip Kelly.

For the Eagles’ media guide in 2015, then-head coach Kelly was asked what NFL player would make the best head coach. His reply was “DeMeco Ryans.’’ On a radio sports show, the UCLA coach reiterated his confidence in the player he once labeled “Mufasa’’ when Ryans played in Philadelphia: “He’s got a unique leadership. He’s got a unique demeanor. He’s an unbelievable competitor. He’s extremely smart. He’s extremely well thought-out. Very detailed ... I think he’ll be a really, really good head coach for a long, long time in the league, because he’s got a lot of special qualities.’’

Praise of Ryans from players, coaches and executives has been overwhelming. He was the first pick in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft by then-Texans general manager Rick Smith and head coach Kubiak, who both had come from the Broncos. Shanahan The Younger, who also joined the staff that year, now says he recognized the rookie as a potential coach. So, when Shanahan became 49ers coach in ‘17, he hired Ryans, who might have been a coach with the Broncos then if John Elway had chosen Kyle instead of Vance Joseph.

“I thought (DeMeco) was ready last year to be a head coach,’’ Shanahan said on Wednesday.

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Ryans — who preached a sermon at 14 and is a certified minister, a cum laude early graduate and unanimous All-American linebacker at Alabama and two-time Pro Bowler with the Texas and the Eagles — didn’t consider coaching until after the NFL owners locked out the players in 2011. Ryans was home in Bessemer, Ala. — which produced Ryans, Jameis Winston, Bo Jackson and opera star Gran Wilson — when he got a call from a former Tide teammate who had just been selected coach at a local high school. Ryans was asked to be an assistant coach — for no salary. He was hooked.

Ryans was the seventh of eight coaches interviewed by Broncos CEO Greg Penner and his search committee. In his second season as the coordinator of the 49ers’ defense (No. 1 in the league), Ryans crushed the lengthy Thursday meeting — and was more impressive than former NFL head coaches Jim Harbaugh, Sean Payton, Raheem Morris and Jim Caldwell, ex-Stanford coach David Shaw and Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero.

Ryans also out-interviewed Dan Quinn, who met the Broncos on Friday, and outcoached Quinn in the 49ers’ victory over the Cowboys.

“Miss Martha’’ taught DeMeco well. Martha Ryans worked three jobs — one daily in a steel mill, another as a housecleaner at night and the third at the church on Sunday — while raising four children. When the youngest, DeMeco, signed his second contract with the Texans, he purchased his mother a new home and a car and relieved her of two jobs. She still works at the church.

Initially, the Broncos didn’t want to hire a fourth-straight, first-year coach after the first three flopped.

But Ryans is the exception to the Broncos’ plan.

That is, if they can persuade Ryans to coach in Denver rather than return to Houston. (He canceled interviews with the Cardinals and the Colts.)

DeMeco is experienced in life, football (17 years playing and coaching in the NFL) and being a leader on and off the field. He remembers the advice from an Eagles coach who advised him, “Players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’’

DeMeco Montrez Ryans — the Broncos' Mufasa.

Woody Paige has been a sports and general columnist in Colorado with the Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Colorado Springs Gazette and The Denver Gazette since 1974. He has been a commentator for the ESPN network on six different shows for 20 years.