Steve Wilks deserves to be the head coach of the Carolina Panthers

 By Zach Goins

January 8, 2023

Photo: Jacob Kupferman / AP

It’s been three months since Steve Wilks took over as the Carolina Panthers interim head coach, inheriting a fractured 1-4 football team with no real identity. 

Wilks’ 12-game audition to become the team’s next full-time head coach came to an end Sunday, following the Panthers 10-7 victory over the Saints. The win closed out the regular season, bringing Wilks’ to a respectable 6-6 record, all things considered. While the year ultimately ended with the Panthers missing the playoffs, Wilks’ accomplishments in his limited season are nothing short of impressive– giving Panthers fans hope that has been missing in the Carolinas for far too long.

One thing is clear: Steve Wilks is the right man for this job. 

Hometown Ties

There’s certainly no requirement for an NFL coach to have a prior connection to the team and community he’ll be coaching, but it doesn’t hurt either. 

Wilks is Carolina through and through, from attending West Charlotte High School to playing collegiately at Appalachian State and professionally for the Charlotte Rage in the Arena Football League. Wilks’ ties to Charlotte continued into his coaching career, getting his start as defensive coordinator at Johnson C. Smith in 1995 and returning to the city in 2012 to coach the Panthers. 

It may not seem like a huge factor, and it might not weigh into Tepper’s decision, but fans have shown they’re willing to show up and show out for one of their own. Wilks has shown a great appreciation and respect for the community. 

Back in the Hunt 

After almost three years trusting Matt Rhule’s process, excitement around Panthers football was at an all-time low. Back-to-back five-win seasons and no signs of improvement had Carolina all too familiar with the bottom of the NFL’s weekly power rankings, and fans craving change.

Any change would spark excitement for the team, but Wilks proved his spark had substance, too. Over the course of his 12 games, Wilks helped turn around the disastrous start to the season and got the Panthers back in the playoff picture. It may have been ugly– and partially due to the lowly NFC South– but for the first time since 2018, the team had playoff hopes. Sunday afternoons went from an afterthought to priorities once more as the Panthers found new life.



Tanking for a high draft pick seemed the most likely scenario following Rhule’s exit, but Wilks flipped the script and nearly did the impossible to right the sinking ship. Considering the chaos Wilks found himself in– from incompetent quarterback play to the trade that sent Christian McCaffrey away, to name a few– there’s not much more owner David Tepper could have expected from his interim head coach.

Redefining the Brand 

During Wilks’ first stint in Carolina, the Panthers had a very clear identity: stout defense and an aggressive rushing attack. It didn’t take long for Wilks to bring that reputation back to Carolina, and prove he wasn’t messing around.

Following McCaffrey’s trade to the 49ers, the Panthers offense was revamped to focus on the run game and spread the wealth between running backs D’onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard. Foreman blossomed into a star, racking up five 100-yard games, while Hubbard added one 100-yard game. The smash-mouth brand of football alleviated pressure from the inconsistent quarterback play, and led to over 100 net rushing yards in seven of 12 games, including a franchise record 320 net rushing yards against the Lions in Week 16.

On the opposite side of the ball, the talented Panthers defense began to turn a corner. While still inconsistent at times– like in Week 9 against the Bengals– young stars like Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, Jaycee Horn and Jeremy Chinn have established a solid foundation alongside veterans like Shaq Thompson and Frankie Luvu. Losing veteran cornerback Donte Jackson to injury five games into Wilks’ tenure turned into a costly blow down the stretch, but it made his accomplishments even more impressive.

Winning over the Locker Room

In Wilks first game at the helm against the Rams, wide receiver Robbie Anderson got into a shouting match with Wilks on the sideline. The coach quickly dismissed Anderson to the locker room before the team traded the wideout the next day, proving that if you weren’t bought into the new Panthers’ identity, you didn’t belong. 

Those who bought into Wilks aren’t afraid to let the fans and Tepper know. Since Wilks took over, multiple players have shared publicly that they believe Wilks is not only the man for the job, but the man they all want to get the job.

“If you ask any man in this locker room, we want Steve Wilks to be our next head coach, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Derrick Brown said. “For us to be able to have Coach Wilks again next year and finally have some stability around here, that’s what it’s all about.”

“We ride behind Wilks,” Shaq Thompson said in an interview with Panthers.com in December. “He came in here, he’s a true alpha, he’s a true leader, and guys follow behind him.”

Praise of Wilks has been a constant out of the locker room since he took over, and the players’ support of their interim head coach has been evident on the field, too.

While the recent trend in the NFL has been to target flashy, offensive-minded head coaches, doing so would be a mistake for the Panthers. David Tepper loves to make a splash, that’s no secret, but in this case, the answer is right in front of him.

Regardless, there’s still a long way to go. The Panthers desperately need to find a franchise quarterback, the secondary needs bolstering, and the coaching staff needs some fine-tuning. But if Wilks can do this much with so little, just imagine the result of a full offseason and the organization’s complete support. 

There’s plenty of work to be done, but Steve Wilks is the right man for the job.




Read next:

In this article