With the retirement of Bruce Arians, the opportunity for change had arrived.
How the change occurs, what it entails we don’t know yet, but no matter if the hire is James Bettcher or someone outside the Arians coaching tree, things will change.
That’s the thing, when things change, people get worried.
In 2013, when Bruce Arians was hired, the fear was of the change from Ray Horton to whoever Arians would bring in. He brought in Todd Bowles, who you could make an argument was the best defensive coordinator in Arizona Cardinals history.
Oh sure, it was only two seasons, but Bowles elevated a group to new heights.
Now, that worry has returned and it has manifest itself in some Cardinals fans being afraid to move on from James Bettcher.
That’s why the Cardinals interviewing Steve Wilks is so interesting to me.
He’s similar to Bettcher in a lot of ways, he’s grown up with Ron Rivera as his coach, ala Bettcher and Arians, but he definitely has a longer track record than Bettcher.
The 48 year old Wilks started his coaching career as the defensive coordinator of the Historically Black University, Johnson C. Smith University, from 1995 to 1996.
In 1997, he took the defensive coordinator job at Savannah State, and held that title until 1998. In 1999, he was elevated to head coach of Savannah State. His tenure was short, after one season as head coach, Wilks would find himself bouncing around colleges as a defensive backs coach or defensive coordinator for the next six seasons, going to: Illinois State, Appalachian State, East Tennessee State (DC), Bowling Green, Notre Dame and Washington.
Then, Rivera would come calling and Wilks, at 37, would get his first NFL gig.
Wilks thrived as the defensive backs coach for the Chicago Bears from 2006-2008, then the San Diego Chargers from 2009-2011, before following Rivera to Carolina to be the Panthers defensive backs coach in 2012. In 2015, because of Wilks dynamic personality and what he brought to the defense, he was elevated to assistant head coach. He still holds the title, but in 2017, after Sean McDermott was hired by the Buffalo Bills, Wilks was elevated to defensive coordinator.
Panthers.com does an excellent job of working through just how dynamic Wilks is as a defensive coordinator:
Wilks, a Charlotte native, returned home from the San Diego Chargers, where he oversaw the secondary from 2009-11. He added the assistant head coach title in 2011. Prior to Wilks’ arrival, San Diego ranked 31st in the NFL against the pass but stood 11th in 2009, first in 2010 and 13th in 2011. In 2010, Wilks and then San Diego defensive coordinator [Ron] Rivera formed a formidable duo when the Chargers led the NFL in total defense and pass defense. San Diego limited opponents to a 76.2 passer rating, fourth lowest in the league, and surrendered 18 touchdown passes, fifth fewest in the NFL.
Wilks came to San Diego after three seasons as defensive backs coach for the Chicago Bears. From 2006-08, cornerbacks and safeties accounted for 42 of the team’s 62 interceptions, including 16 in 2006 when Chicago - with Rivera as defensive coordinator - led the NFL with 44 takeaways and advanced to Super Bowl XLI. The Bears’ defensive backs also forced 20 fumbles during Wilks’ tenure, the most in the NFL in that span.
Wilks has an innate ability to find and develop talent in the secondary, but he also understands defensive talent all around. When you are the dynamic Panthers defense, you see a defense that thrives at every level.
More importantly, if I was to pick a single defensive mind to work with the Arizona Cardinals linebackers, mainly Deone Bucannon and Haason Reddick, it would be Wilks.
When you look at what he’s continued to do with the Panthers linebackers, mainly Shaq Thompson, it makes me interested to see how he would utilize the undersized duo of Bucannon and Reddick.
Wilks is a person that would need to hire the right offensive coordinator, and he’s pegged Mike McCoy, allegedly, as his guy.
McCoy has done well as an OC, even if he struggled in his last stop.
If Wilks is the guy, you have to be comfortable with the defense moving forward.
What do you think?