Steve Wilks on Panthers' Frank Reich Hire: 'I'm Disappointed but Not Defeated'

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 27, 2023

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 18: Interim head coach Steve Wilks of the Carolina Panthers looks on during warmups before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Bank of America Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Steve Wilks addressed the Carolina Panthers passing him over in their coaching search in favor of hiring Frank Reich.

Wilks said in a statement Friday he's "disappointed but not defeated."

Steve Wilks @ScoreonD

<a href="https://t.co/eqD0n4hXYg">pic.twitter.com/eqD0n4hXYg</a>

"It was an honor for me to coach those men in the Carolina Panthers locker room as the interim head coach," he said. "Players, coaches and staff, thank you for your hard work and dedication. I took pride in representing Charlotte, a great city that I love so much."

Carolina announced Thursday it agreed to a deal with Reich.

Others shared Wilks' disappointment after he put together a compelling case to coach the team in 2023 and beyond.

The 53-year-old took over for Matt Rhule following a 1-4 start. Under his watch, Carolina went 6-6 and made a late charge for the NFL playoffs. He also had the support of the players. Defensive tackle Derrick Brown said in December on Good Morning Football he'd "speak for everybody in that locker room and say we want coach Wilks to be our next head coach."

Carolina choosing Reich over Wilks symbolized for many the almost unattainable standards Black coaches need to maintain in order to get hired as a head coach.

Mina Kimes @minakimes

AZ fired Steve Wilks after one season w/ Rosen, then hired a college coach and gave him a massive contract (whoops).<br><br>Carolina hired a college coach and gave him a massive contract (whoops), then, after Wilks turned things around, replaced him.<br><br>How is this not a pattern?

Mike Jones @ByMikeJones

Steve Wilks takes an underperforming team, turns them into a competitive squad, flirts with the playoffs without a legit option at QB… and it wasn't enough to land the head coaching job. <a href="https://t.co/4ELvnR4e2U">https://t.co/4ELvnR4e2U</a>

'Nata Edwards @NataTheScribe

I'll be real, if what Steve Wilks did wasn't good enough to be a head coaching candidate other than here. I feel it says a lot about the state of black head coaching hires in the league without saying it.

Panthers owner David Tepper set the tone when he named Wilks as Rhule's replacement in October.

"He's in a position to be in consideration for that position," Tepper told reporters. "I had a talk with Steve, no promises were made, but if he does an incredible job, he has to be in consideration."

Not only was that a high bar to clear, but one would also presume doing an "incredible job" would effectively guarantee Wilks the permanent gig. When he proceeded to exceed expectations—effectively doing exactly what Tepper laid out—it still wasn't enough.

Wilks' attorneys, Douglas H. Wigdor and John Elefterakis, said they were "shocked and disturbed" by the Panthers' decision and that the NFL has a "legitimate race problem."

Over the years, the league has amended the Rooney Rule in an effort to address the longstanding inequities minority coaches face and their lack of upward mobility.

Thursday was a reminder that teams can be required to interview any number of minority candidates, but team owners will always hire who they want.