CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Steve Wilkes said Friday he was “disappointed but undefeated” after being passed over for the Carolina Panthers coaching job, which has gone to former Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich.
There was no mention of a possible discrimination lawsuit like the one Wilkes brought against the NFL after he was fired by the Arizona Cardinals after one season (2018), though the law firm representing Wilkes on Thursday responded to Reich’s appointment by saying that “there are a legitimate racial problem in the NFL” and that there would be “more to say in the coming days”.
Wilkes, who is black, did not mention Panthers owner David Tepper by name in his book The message was posted on Twitter in which he thanked the players, coaches and staff for their support as interim coach. It was Tipper who gave Wilkes the chance to lead his hometown team after firing Matt Rowley after a 1-4 start.
Wilkes went 6-6 as interim head coach and was a near unanimous choice by the players for the full-time job. He was generous in his congratulations to the Reich.
“The sun rose this morning, and by God’s grace, so did I,” Wilkes wrote. “I am disappointed but not defeated. A lot of people are not built for this but I know what it means to persevere and keep going.
“It has been an honor to coach these guys in the Carolina Panthers locker room as interim head coach. Players, coaches, and staff, thank you for your hard work and dedication. I have been proud to represent Charlotte, an amazing city that I love so much. Thank you to my family, friends, and community for your overwhelming support.” .
“I wish Frank Reich all the best. I will always be a fan of the Carolina Panthers football team.”
Wilkes ended his letter with the team’s slogan: “#KEEP POUNDING.”
The first Carolina player to respond to Wilkes’ letter on Friday was smitten Johnny Hecker. The players were silent on Twitter after Reich’s appointment on Thursday.
Nothing but absolute love for this man! Hekker posted on Twitter. “I can’t wait to see what his future holds.”
This “absolute love” summed up what most players had to say in the case of Wilkes’ appointment.
“As a head coach in the National Football League, you have to be a leader, you have to know how to command a room,” guard Austin Corbett for ESPN during the final week of the regular season. “He’s done a great job, and we just need to build on that momentum that we have.”
Statistically, the Panthers improved a lot after the change from Rhule to Wilks, especially in terms of offense. They moved from 24th in scoring (18.6 points per game) to 15th (22.1), from last in yards per game (271.4) to 17th (331.5), and from 27th in rushing (89.8 yards per game) to 1st sixth (144.6).
But, in the end, the Panthers went with Reich, the first offensive coach in team history.
The fact that seven of the nine job candidates were attack-minded indicated early in the process that she was chairing the search committee.
A defensive specialist, Wilkes joined Reich and Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore in getting a second interview for the job.
The Panthers were the first of five NFL teams with an inaugural head coach to be appointed. Wilkes was not interviewed by any of the other four.
Wigdor LLP, the New York City-based law firm representing Wilkes in his discrimination lawsuit against the NFL, was “upset” by the Panthers’ hiring process.
“We are shocked and upset that after Coach Wilkes’ incredible job as interim head coach, including getting the team back into playoff contention and garnering player and fan support, he has been passed over for the head coach position by David Tepper,” the company said in a statement.
The company said on Friday that it will not have any further response at this time.