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NFL Rumors: Support 'Building' for Steve Wilks to Be Named Panthers' Full-Time HC

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVDecember 17, 2022

Carolina Panthers head coach Steve Wilks watch during the second half of an NFL football game between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)
AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman

There is a growing belief in NFL circles that Carolina Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks has earned the right to be appointed the team's full-time head coach, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

"Slam dunk to take interim tag off title," an AFC executive told Fowler. "Better brand of football since he took over."

"They play hard for him, has full command of locker room," an NFC executive added.

Since taking over for the fired Matt Rhule in October, Wilks has led the team to a 4-4 record. The Panthers were 1-4 before the switch.

That turnaround has the Panthers, somewhat shockingly, just one game behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7) for first place in the NFC South, with a crucial matchup between the teams coming on New Year's Day.

If the Panthers win out—a doable scenario, with winnable matchups against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions, Bucs and New Orleans Saints left on the schedule—they are guaranteed to win the division since they already beat the Bucs once and a second victory in the matchup would give them the head-to-head tiebreaker.

They would also have a better divisional record than the 5-8 Atlanta Falcons if the Falcons won their four remaining games.

Wilks has turned around the Panthers amid a consistent quarterback carousel that has seen Baker Mayfield, PJ Walker and Sam Darnold all start, with Wilks settling on Darnold for the time being.

The team also traded key offensive playmakers Christian McCaffrey and Robbie Anderson and has leaned on a young, aggressive defense and the dual-headed rushing attack of D'Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard.

Darin Gantt @daringantt

Wilks says the offensive line has "taken ownership" of the fact they're a strength of this team now. <br><br>With the emphasis on the run game, and the protection for all the QBs, that's certainly been the case (and very different from last year).

It has been an old-school approach, but it's worked for Wilks and the Panthers.

The 53-year-old has only been given one other NFL head coaching opportunity, going 3-13 with the Arizona Cardinals in the 2018 season. He's also spent time as a defensive coordinator with the Panthers (2017) and Cleveland Browns (2019) and has a long history coaching defensive backs and serving as an assistant head coach at the NFL level.

But he's helped turn this Panthers team around. If Carolina makes an unlikely push to the playoffs, he'll almost assuredly be handed the reins on a full-time basis.