The Arizona Cardinals announced the hiring of Steve Wilks as head coach today. Wilks, who served as the Panthers defensive coordinator for the past year, will take over a Cardinals team that finished 8-8. Carolina immediately promoted defensive line coach Eric Washington to defensive coordinator, an expected move given Ron Rivera's affinity from promoting within.
I hadn't believe Wilks would become a head coach after serving just one year as defensive coordinator. Not because of his merit or his ability, but only because it took Sean McDermott, Wilk's predecessor and now Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills, a couple of years before he got his shot. McDermott had a longer tenure and arguably more success as defensive coordinator but it took a more than a round of interviews. Wilks, who is extremely articulate and charismatic, must have won over Arizona's management in the interview.
Coach Ron Rivera indicated weeks ago that he expected Wilks would be a head coach in 2018. At the time, I thought Rivera was mainly being supportive. What could have been a customary recommendation of a colleague turned out to be a revealing declaration of what would be.
There never was much discussion about how Carolina would fill Wilks departure in the event he moved on. Mike Shula's departure and the hiring of Norv Turner as his replacement dominated our focus for change. Add that Carolina's owner Jerry Richardson is abruptly selling the team, any more change seemed ridiculously unnecessary.
Washington has been Carolina's defensive line coach sine 2011. In that time, he's coached some of the league's most potent pass-rushing fronts. In 2013, Carolina's defense recorded 60 sacks. This past season, the defense allowed only 88.1 rushing yards per game, second-best in franchise history. His fingerprints are clearly all over the Panthers success in recent years.
There's been significant movement within the Panthers organization in the past two years. Some have moved on to bigger opportunities, while others have been shown the door, including General Manager Dave Gettleman and Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula. Wilks happily gets to move up in his career, and Carolina happily chooses one of the more seamless changes they have faced recently.
By Tony Dunn
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