Steve Wilks’ second chance as NFL head coach comes with caveats — Andscape

After being fired after his only season as NFL head coach, Steve Wilks is once again leading a team.

Well, sort of.

Carolina Panthers franchise owner David Tepper fired Matt Rhule on Monday amid the team’s 1-4 start and, on an interim basis, promoted Wilks, who was in his first season as coordinator. of defensive passing game / secondary coach of the Panthers. During the 2018 season, Wilks led the Arizona Cardinals.

The Panthers were downright unassailable in more than two seasons under Rhule (11-27), who Tepper handed to a ridiculously lavish contract for a longtime college coach who had little exposure to professional play. More on that in a moment.

Wilks becomes the latest black man to inherit a hot mess as interim coach, and he’ll have to push multiple boulders simultaneously to have a chance at settling into the coach’s office. Amid myriad roster issues, the Panthers lack even a capable quarterback, let alone a standout quarterback.

In the NFL, winning without a quarterback is like trying to mow the grass without a lawnmower. Good luck with that.

But in a 32-team league with just three black head coaches, black assistants can’t afford to turn down jobs — no matter how bad they may look on paper, several black coaches and black executives recently told Andscape. .

Wilks has been in a similar position before.

Steve Wilks (left) went 3-13 in his only season as Arizona Cardinals coach.

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For years, Wilks climbed steadily through the league ranks and established himself as one of the top coaching candidates while serving as the Panthers’ defensive coordinator in 2017. The following year, while at the Cardinals lead, Wilks went 3-13. Obviously, the team did poorly under him.

The problem is that one season is not enough for a coach to implement his vision and establish the culture he wants, especially when things are as volatile at quarterback as they were with Arizona. at that time. When reflecting on Wilks’ brief tenure with the Cardinals, the term “they messed it up” comes to mind.

Wilks agrees. In April, Wilks was one of two black coaches to join former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores’ race discrimination lawsuit against the league – which is seeking class-action status – alleging in the amended complaint that he had “no significant chance of succeeding”. in Arizona. For most black assistant coaches, becoming an interim coach is also not a path to long-term employment.

According to research by The Washington PostBlack coaches have held interim positions 14 times since 1990. They have been retained permanently only three times.

Just facts. And they illustrate the historic challenge Wilks faces to fully revive his career after his terrible experience with Arizona, said N. Jeremi Duru, author of the definitive book on the struggle that led to the creation of the Rooney Rule. Advancing the Ball: Racing, Reform, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL.

“In both short and long-term history, the statistics tell us that there are headwinds facing black candidates…which forces them to seize every [position] to bolster their candidacies,” said Duru, a sports law professor at American University and a longtime observer of NFL hiring practices.

“That doesn’t mean he won’t have a real opportunity there. [with the Panthers]. But I suspect he’s aware…that he’s pretty much swimming uphill given that history in the league.

Wilks knows the deal. However, declining the offer never entered his mind.

“Not to the point where I even debated the situation,” Wilks told reporters on Tuesday. “I want to be part of trying to overthrow this thing.”

Carolina Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks said of the opportunity to take over as coach, “I want to be involved in trying to turn things around.”

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Wilks has an opening, as it is, because Tepper made a colossal mistake by hiring Rhule and giving him a seven-year, $62 million deal to reshape the market.

Although Rhule admirably succeeded in turning around two college programs, his only coaching experience in the NFL came during a year as an assistant offensive line coach with the New York Giants. Exactly why Tepper believed Rhule, having served just one season as a relatively low-level assistant in the league, was both the right person to lead a rebuild and deserved such a massive contract to be an NFL head coach for the first time, well, that’s a mystery.

After Rhule’s contract announcement, many black coaches pointed to the astonishing deal as another example of the disparity between them and their white counterparts. Not only do franchise owners ignore qualified black NFL applicants for head coaching positions as if they were being paid to do so, several black coaches told Andscape, but they also reward white college coaches who haven’t cut their teeth in the league for a long time. way. Former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer is also high on this list.

Wilks has proven he knows the NFL game. And regardless of the team’s win-loss record going forward, Wilks will be a calming force within the organization, said Rod Graves of the Fritz Pollard Alliance.

Graves, the executive director of the independent organization that advises NFL leaders on diversity, equity and inclusion, thinks Carolina will be better off for promoting Wilks.

“He understands the game, he understands the players, and he’s very communicative,” said Graves, a former NFL general manager and senior official in the NFL commissioner’s office.

“He also knows the division and the conference. He knows what needs to be done and he is fully capable of providing the leadership needed… to lead a professional football team. This presents him with a great opportunity to recover in a positive light.

And as NFL history has proven, black coaches don’t have enough opportunities to lose.

Jason Reid is the Senior NFL Writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially games involving his son and daughter.

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