The Panthers made the first hire of the NFL coaching cycle, inking former Colts head coach Frank Reich for the same position in Carolina. And not everyone is happy about the hire – specifically, interim head coach Steve Wilks, who took over the job midseason after Matt Rhule was fired.
Wilks, who is black, was considered for the full-time gig, but the team opted for Reich, who is white. Immediately after the hire was made, Wilks’ lawyer, Douglas Wigdor, released a statement that appeared to question whether he was passed over due to race.
“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 the players and fans, that he was passed over for the Head Coach position by David Tepper,” the statement read.
“There is a legitimate race problem in the NFL, and we can assure you that we will have more to say in the coming days.”
Wilks previously joined former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores’ racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL, with Wigdor representing him in that case, too. Wilks was previously the head coach for the Arizona Cardinals, but was fired after just one season and replaced by Kliff Kingsbury, who was fired after the 2022 season.
Panthers players openly lobbied to keep Wilks as the head coach on a full-time basis, after he led Carolina to a respectable 6-6 record after taking over for Rhule. The Panthers came within one game of winning a weak NFC South, finishing behind the 8-9 Buccaneers.
“We ride behind Wilks,” linebacker Shaq Thompson said during the season after the Panthers beat the Seahawks, who made the playoffs, in December.
“He came in here, he’s a true alpha, he’s a true leader and guys follow behind him. He’s done amazing. Look what we’ve been going through.”
Reich was the head coach for the Colts from 2018 until he was fired in the middle of the 2022 season, leading Indianapolis to the playoffs twice in that span. He was also the first ever starting quarterback for the Panthers in their inaugural 1995 season, throwing the first touchdown pass in franchise history.
Wilks and his legal team, however, still clearly believe there was more to the decision to hire Reich over him.
Wilks released a statement of his own to his Twitter account on Friday morning, saying he was “disappointed but not defeated” that he didn’t land the full-time job.
“The sun rose this morning and by the grace of God so did I,” the statement read. “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.”
He also wished Reich “all the best.”
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