HBCU to Pro

Carolina Panthers name Steve Wilks, former HBCU coach, as interim

The secondary coach moved up after the Panthers fired head coach Matt Rhule following a loss to the 49ers

Steve Wilks, whose coaching background includes a pair of jobs at HBCUs, has been named interim head coach of the Carolina Panthers after the team fired Matt Rhule on Monday.

Not even 24 hours after their 37-15 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Panthers announced Rhule was gone after five games into his third season. He leaves with a 1-4 record in 2022, an overall mark of 11-27 and four years left on the seven-year, $62 million deal he signed to replace Ron Rivera.


Panthers owner David Tepper told reporters at an afternoon news conference that he’ll see how the remainder of the 2022 season progresses before he considers Wilks a candidate to become the permanent head coach, which would be the second time he would hold the job.

“Ultimately, he’s in a position to be in consideration for that position,” Tepper said. “I had a talk with Steve. No promises were made. But, obviously, if he does an incredible job, he’ll have to be under consideration for that.”

Asked if he though Wilks could reverse the team’s fortunes, Tepper said he and the fans will have to watch and wait. But he told another reporter that he has the right man for the temporary role.

“Steve is a leader of men. He has experience as a head coach,” Tepper said. “And I thought he’s the best candidate in the building for that role.”


Wilks, who is in his second stint as an assistant with the Panthers, graduated from West Charlotte High School and is a graduate of Appalachian State University. After playing for the Charlotte Rage of the Arena League in 1993, Wilks coached at Johnson C. Smith in 1995.

Not only did Wilks draw up plays at Johnson C. Smith, but he was also the coach who washed the clothes and kept the field in shape. He has often said mowing the grass at JCSU was among his fondest memories.

From there, Wilks went to Savannah State to become defensive coordinator. He advanced to head coach in 1999, finishing 5-6 in the school’s final season in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Wilks, 53, returned to the Panthers this year to become defensive pass game coordinator/secondary coach. Before that, Wilks joined the Panthers coaching staff in 2012 as defensive backs coach, and also served as an assistant head coach from 2015 through 2017, and defensive coordinator in 2017.


Wilks left the Panthers to become head coach of the Cardinals in 2018, but was let go after one season. That firing ultimately led him to join a lawsuit filed by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores which accuses the National Football League of racial discrimination. 

After finishing 3-13, Wilks was replaced by current coach Kliff Klingsbury. Lawyers say Wilks was discriminated against as a “bridge coach” who was “not given any meaningful chance to succeed.”

“When Coach Flores filed this action, I knew I owed it to myself, and to all Black NFL coaches and aspiring coaches, to stand with him,” Wilks said in a statement released by his attorneys. 

“This lawsuit has shed further important light on a problem that we all know exists, but that too few are willing to confront. Black coaches and candidates should have exactly the same ability to become employed, and remain employed, as white coaches and candidates. That is not currently the case, and I look forward to working with Coach Flores and Coach Horton to ensure that the aspiration of racial equality in the NFL becomes a reality.”

After leaving the Cardinals, Wilks became the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns in 2019, and spent 2021 as the defensive coordinator at the University of Missouri before getting back to Charlotte.

Carolina Panthers name Steve Wilks, former HBCU coach, as interim
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