CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Steve Wilks on Friday said he was “disappointed but not defeated” after being passed over for the Carolina Panthers‘ head-coaching job, which went to former Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich.
There was no mention of a potential discrimination lawsuit like the one Wilks filed against the NFL after being fired by the Arizona Cardinals after one season (2018), although the law firm that represents Wilks responded Thursday to Reich’s hiring by saying that “there is a legitimate race problem in the NFL” and that it would have “more to say in the coming days.”
Wilks, who is Black, also didn’t mention Panthers owner David Tepper by name in his message posted to Twitter in which he thanked players, coaches and staff members for their support as the interim coach. It was Tepper who gave Wilks the opportunity to lead his hometown team after firing Matt Rhule following a 1-4 start.
Wilks went 6-6 as the interim coach and was a near-unanimous choice by players to get the full-time job. He was gracious in his congratulations to Reich.
“The sun rose this morning and by the grace of God so did I,” Wilks wrote. “I’m disappointed but not defeated. Many people aren’t built for this but I know what it means to persevere and see it through.
“It was an honor for me to coach those men in the Carolina Panthers locker room as the interim head coach. 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. Thank you to my family, friends and the community for your overwhelming support.
“I do wish Frank Reich all the best. I will always be a fan of the Carolina Panthers Football Team.”
Wilks ended his message with the team mantra: “#KEEP POUNDING.”
The first Carolina player to respond to Wilks’ message Friday was punter Johnny Hekker. Players had been silent on Twitter after Reich’s hiring Thursday.
“Nothing but absolute love for this man!” Hekker posted to Twitter. “Can’t wait to see what his future holds.”
That “absolute love” summed up what most of the players said in making a case for Wilks to be hired.
“Being a head coach in the National Football League, you have to be a leader, you have to know how to control a room,” guard Austin Corbett told ESPN during the last week of the regular season. “He’s done a fantastic job, and we need to just build off this momentum we have.”
Statistically, the Panthers improved a lot after the change from Rhule to Wilks, particularly on offense. They went from 24th in scoring (18.6 points per game) to 15th (22.1), from last in yards per game (271.4) to 17th (331.5), and from 27th in rushing (89.8 yards per game) to sixth (144.6).
But, ultimately, the Panthers went with Reich, the first offensive-minded coach in team history.
That seven of the nine candidates for the job were offensive-minded indicated early in the process where the search committee was headed.
Wilks, a defensive specialist, joined Reich and Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore in getting a second interview for the job.
The Panthers were the first of five NFL teams with a head-coach opening to make a hire. Wilks has not yet been interviewed by any of the other four.
Wigdor LLP, the New York City-based law firm that represents Wilks in his discrimination suit against the NFL, was “disturbed” by the Panthers’ hiring process.
“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 players and fans, that he was passed over for the head coach position by David Tepper,” the firm said in a statement.
The firm said Friday that it would not have any further response at this time.