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Why Steve Wilks didn’t get Panthers job despite impressive record as interim coach, strong player support

The 2022 season was a study in extremes for the Panthers. There were the lowest of lows — a 1-4 start brought an unceremonious end to Matt Rhule’s tenure, Christian McCaffrey was dealt to the 49ers, and Baker Mayfield’s struggles persisted until he was released.

But there were some real highs, too. In its final 11 games, Carolina went 6-6. The Cats even game themselves a chance at an NFC South crown, falling just short of the Buccaneers.

Much of that success was credited to interim coach Steve Wilks, who breathed life into a team that looked destined for a top-five pick. Wilks was the one who appointed Sam Darnold as starting quarterback. He was also the mastermind behind D’Onta Foreman’s emergence as Panthers’ lead back, an especially inspired decision.

It seems that wasn’t enough for owner David Tepper, who handed the reins of the team to former Colts head coach (and original Panthers quarterback) Frank Reich. 

MORE: Why Carolina hired Frank Reich as new head coach

Some were aggrieved with the move, feeling Wilks had done enough to get the permanent role. The 53-year-old was a major hit in the locker room and apparently had the backing of numerous Carolina stars past and present.

Just look at former Panthers safety Tre Boston’s reaction to the news: 

It seems Reich’s reputation as an offensive guru won Tepper over, with The Athletic reporting that Reich wooed the Panthers owner with his offensive creativity. Wilks is more of a defensive specialist, serving as a defensive coordinator at different points in his career.

Nevertheless, Wilks’ snubbing certainly leaves a sour taste in folks’ mouths. Wilks was looking to become one of just three Black head coaches in the NFL. Wilks is a co-plaintiff in a racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL alongside Brian Flores and Ray Horton. His lawyer released this statement in the aftermath of Reich’s hiring:

In the meantime, it appears that Wilks is looking for greener pastures. Per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, Wilks intends to find another place to coach.

One potential destination? NFC South rival Atlanta, which is looking for a defensive coordinator. Falcons WR/RB Cordarrelle Patterson certainly seems to be down:


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