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Wise Wilks

The new Arizona Cardinals head coach has a different manner and way than his predecessor and it is already setting him apart.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals-Press Conference Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There is a new strong, resonant and sobering voice at the head of the Cardinals’ coaching staff in the person of Steve Wilks.

In his press conferences, Wilks comes across as being extremely focused and very serious about putting his own stamp on the football team and the organization.

When he was recently asked whether he had spoken with Bruce Arians about the team, Wilks said yes, but only to accept BA’s invitation to BA’s charity event. Wilks indicated that he was happy to attend BA’s event, but, as far as engaging in a dialogue with his predecessor about the team, Wilks is adamant that he wants to carve his own identity and wants to learn about the players and the team through his own eyes.

For any of us who have been promoted to leadership positions, we can understand how a predecessor’s biases, particularly about colleagues and members of the staff can leave untoward and difficult-to-ignore impressions.

Wilks wants to give every player on the roster a clean slate.

In addition, Wilks is very serious about creating competition at every position, which includes throwing the new players and rookies into the mix.

The Cardinals need this competitive approach.

From day one, Wilks has insisted that he and his coaching staff are going to be teachers who can find a way to engage and motivate players of every type of personality and background.

In terms of fostering good, strong and much improved player development, the Cardinals need this approach.

Recently, Wilks announced that he is switching the team’s base defense from a 34 to a 43. His sage rationale is that he wants his two best edge pass rushers to be moving forward on every snap---without having to drop off into space or pass coverage (which the 34 required them to do from time to time).

In terms of getting maximum pressure on the QB and the maximum utilization of Jones and Golden’s skill-sets, the Cardinals need this approach.

Plus, Wilks and Holcomb are 43 guys---this is their strength.

With Wilks his philosophy is to play to strength. Full tilt. With 100% commitment.

When asked about all the noise the other NFC West teams are making this off-season, Wilks was unfazed. He calmly said that he and his coaches prefer to focus strictly on the Cardinals and that it was fine by them that the Cardinals are at this point flying under the radar.

Again, if the Cardinals want to find their own identity and measure of success, they need this approach.

Wilks has asked the players to avoid talking about the Super Bowl, with the understanding that the team’s new approach is to get stronger every day---as Wilks puts it: “to win the day.”

The Cardinals need this approach.

Yet, perhaps the wisest decision of all has been Wilks’ ubiquitous presence in each of the position “rooms”, the locker room, the weight room and the cafeteria. His primary focus is on developing a rapport with every one of his coaches and players. The best high school principals, for example, are not the ones who are tucked behind their desks and in closed-door meetings all day long---they are up and about and moving around the building, all the while engaging with the teachers and students.

At the end of the day, the success and well-being of any professional collaboration is dependent on the esprit de corps and morale of the constituents, Common goals are best attained through meaningful work relationships and cooperation.

If the Cardinals are ever going to win a Super Bowl, they need this approach.

As for Steve Wilks’ initial efforts, he is making a positive impression on the players.

The Cardinals’ second year safety Budda Baker said of Wilks: “I love to hear he’s the type of coach who is demanding. When he talks in a room, even if he wasn’t the head coach, I feel like people would want to listen to him. This is my first time seeing him as an Arizona Cardinal---I remember meeting with him as the DC in Carolina---I’m just very excited to learn from him and for him to be the head coach.”

Perhaps no one is more excited about the new offense than RB David Johnson. He said, “I was so excited to hear how Coach Wilks wants to run the football. I talked to Melvin Gordon a little about Mike McCoy who told me that he is a good offensive coordinator who will use me as both a runner and receiver.”

The players are now fast at work and are doing their best to absorb the new playbooks, assignments and terminology, with the daily reminder from strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris that, “As Coach Wilks always says---today is the day---we win the day.”

It just may go to show that---where there’s a Wilks, there’s a way. A wise way.