The Carolina Panthers on Thursday named former Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich as their new head coach. Reich getting the job necessarily meant that interim head coach Steve Wilks -- who had been the team's defensive coordinator before being elevated to the top job after Matt Rhule was fired early this season -- did not.
Wilks was one of two finalists for the job, according to CBS Sports NFL insider Jonathan Jones, after leading the Panthers to a 6-6 record following their 1-4 start. Carolina was not eliminated from playoff contention until the second-to-last week of the season, and showed great improvement during Wilks' tenure despite the team trading Christian McCaffrey just one game into said tenure.
Multiple players vouched for Wilks when it came to the decision of who would get the permanent coaching job. "We ride behind Wilks," linebacker Shaq Thompson said late in the season. "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."
Alas, Wilks did not get the job, and it appears he will be moving on from Carolina. That reality raises the question of where Wilks will land next, and in what role.
At the moment, four head coaching jobs remain open: those of the Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts. Wilks has not interviewed or been requested for an interview for any of those openings, because until Thursday, he was still the interim head coach of the Panthers. It's possible he could emerge as a candidate for one of those vacancies now that he is available.
If Wilks either is not a candidate or does not get any of those head coaching positions, he could also land in one of those places as a defensive coordinator -- especially if the team hires a young offensive coach who is looking for a more experienced hand to lead the team on the other side of the ball. There are also numerous defensive coordinators who have interviewed and/or remain in the mix for those jobs (San Francisco 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans, New York Giants DC Wink Martindale, and Philadelphia Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon chief among them), and if one of them lands an opportunity, Wilks could potentially be among the candidates to replace them in their roles. It's also possible that Wilks could be a candidate for one of the remaining defensive coordinator openings for the three teams that have their head coach in place but are looking for a new DC: the Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings.
It's always wise when a coach is looking for a new job to search out the coaches for whom he has worked in the past, but at the moment, Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera is the only head coach to whom Wilks has a prior connection. Wilks worked with Rivera in both Chicago and San Diego, and then served as his defensive backs coach and later assistant head coach and defensive coordinator in Carolina. Washington has its DC in place in Jack Del Rio, but Wilks getting a job similar to the one Brian Flores took with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2022 (assistant head coach and position coach) is a feasible option if he does not land a head coach or defensive coordinator job.
In other words, Wilks should have a plethora of options available to him this offseason. But as we have seen in the past (including with Flores last offseason), a plethora of options does not always guarantee a coach an opportunity. And coaches who look like Flores and Wilks have historically tended to get fewer of those opportunities than others, which is the basis of their racial discrimination suit against the NFL. If Wilks, like Flores last year, fails to land even a defensive coordinator position this offseason, that could factor into the case at some point down the line.