CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Steve Wilks said Friday he was «disappointed but not defeated» after being cut from the Carolina Panthers head coaching job, which went to the former Colts coach of Indianapolis, Frank Reich.
There was no mention of a possible 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 representing Wilks responded Thursday to Reich’s hiring by saying «there is a legitimate race issue in the NFL» and that he would «have more to say in the coming days.»
Wilks, who is black, also did not mention the name of Panthers owner David Tepper in his message posted on Twitter in which he thanked the players, coaches and staff for their support as interim coach. It was Tepper who gave Wilks the opportunity to lead his hometown team after he fired Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start.
Wilks went 6-6 as interim coach and was a near unanimous choice of players to get the full-time job. He was gracious in his congratulations to Reich.
«The sun came up this morning and by the grace of God, so did I,» Wilks wrote. «I’m disappointed but not defeated. A lot of people aren’t cut out for this, but I know what it means to persevere and go all the way.
«It was an honor for me to coach these men in the Carolina Panthers locker room as interim head coach. Players, coaches and staff, thank you for your hard work and dedication. I was proud to represent Charlotte, a great city that I thank my family, friends and community for your unwavering support.
«I wish Frank Reich 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 on Friday was punter Johnny Hekker. The players had remained silent on Twitter after Reich was hired on Thursday.
«Nothing but absolute love for this man!» Hekker posted on Twitter. «I can’t wait to see what his future holds for him.»
That «absolute love» sums up what most players said when pleading for Wilks to be hired.
«As the head coach of 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 final week of the regular season. «He’s done a fantastic job, and we just have to build on that momentum we have.»
Statistically, the Panthers have improved a lot after Rhule’s switch to Wilks, especially on offense. They went from 24th in scoring (18.6 ppg) to 15th (22.1), last in yards per game (271.4) to 17th (331.5) and 27th in rushing (89.8 yards). per game) in sixth (144.6).
But, ultimately, the Panthers went with Reich, the first offensive-minded coach in team history.
The fact that seven of the nine candidates for the position were offensive 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 securing a second interview for the job.
The Panthers were the first of five NFL teams with a head coaching opening to make a hire. Wilks has yet to be interviewed by any of the other four.
Wigdor LLP, the New York-based law firm representing Wilks in his NFL discrimination lawsuit, has been «disturbed» by the Panthers’ hiring process.
“We are shocked and troubled that after the incredible job Coach Wilks has done as interim coach, including getting the team back into playoff contention and gaining the support of players and fans, that he was passed over for the head coaching job by David Tepper,» the firm said in a statement.
The firm said Friday it would have no further response at this time.