Despite his impressive work as the Panthers' interim head coach, Steve Wilks was not chosen to be Carolina's permanent coach. The job instead went to Frank Reich, who was fired by the Colts nine games into the 2022 season. Wilks expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to be the Panthers head coach for their final 12 games of the season, saying he will always be a fan of the team in a statement he tweeted on Friday morning.
January 27, 2023
Attorney Douglas Wigdor, who represents Wilks in Brian Flores' pending racial discrimination case against the NFL, wasn't as gracious, issuing a statement after the Panthers announced the hiring of Reich.
"We are shocked and disturbed that after the incredible job Coach Wilks did as the interim coach, including bringing the team back into Playoff contention and garnering the support of the players and fans, that he was passed over for the Head Coach position by David Tepper.
"There is a legitimate race problem in the NFL, and we can assure you that we will have more to say in the coming days."
Wilks received rave reviews from Panthers players after replacing Matt Rhule after the team's 1-4 start. The Panthers went 6-6 under Wilks and finished just short of winning the NFC South division.
The fact the Panthers were competitive down the stretch was a testament to Wilks, a longtime defensive assistant who served as the Cardinals' head coach for the 2018 season. Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold said Wilks' transparency was one of his biggest strengths during his time as interim coach.
"I think with him being able to be honest with us and tell us exactly how we're going to play the game and what we want to do and not shy away from that," Darnold said after a Week 14 win over Seattle. "He said early on, even when we were losing some games, it was, 'hey, trust the process and trust the game plan.' If we go into a game knowing we want to run the football and early we get down a score or two, we just got to trust it and know that that game plan is going to come to fruition. So I think Coach Wilks has been doing a really good job messaging that to the team."
Carolina's players openly lobbied for Wilks late in the 2022 season. Unfortunately for them and Wilks, their lobbying ultimately fell on deaf ears.
"We ride behind Wilks," linebacker Shaq Thompson said following Carolina's late-season win in Seattle. "He came in here, he's a true alpha, he's a true leader and guys follow behind him.
"He's done amazing. Look what we've been going through."
The lack of minority head coaches was a hot-button topic this time a year ago, especially after the Dolphins' firing of Flores and Flores' case against the NFL. The NFL had just three Black coaches at the start of the 2022 season. One of those coaches, Lovie Smith, became the third Black coach fired by the Texans in as many years a day after the regular season ended.
Last February, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a memo to NFL teams addressing the lack of minority hiring.
"We have made significant efforts to promote diversity and adopted numerous policies and programs which have produced positive change in many areas, however we must acknowledge that particularly with respect to head coaches the results have been unacceptable," Goodell wrote. "We will reevaluate and examine all policies, guidelines, and initiatives relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion, including as they relate to gender."