CHARLOTTE – When David Tepper was thinking through candidates for interim head coach, there was an obvious choice.
The Panthers owner named Steve Wilks the interim coach Monday after parting ways with Matt Rhule five games into Rhule's third season in charge.
Wilks, 53, had been the Panthers' defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach. He's a Charlotte native who previously worked as an assistant coach for Carolina from 2012-17 before returning this season. In 2018, he left for a one-year stint as the head coach for the Cardinals.
"It's good to have somebody internally that's familiar with the team and with the people in the building," Tepper said. "Steve is a leader of men. He has experience as a head coach, and I thought he was the best candidate in the building for that role."
Wilks has built relationships with members of the Panthers defense, particularly in the secondary, and received rave reviews from players such as cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Jeremy Chinn throughout the preseason.
When asked about his expectations with Wilks finishing the season as head coach, Tepper expressed confidence.
"I think we always have an expectation to win and trying to find a way to win," he said. "That's never changing. Steve is familiar with the team. I have confidence in him."
Wilks has deep North Carolina roots. Born in Charlotte, he attended West Charlotte High School and Appalachian State. He played one season of arena football with the Charlotte Rage in 1993 and has previously coached in the city.
He started his coaching career as the defensive coordinator for Johnson C. Smith, the city's Historically Black University. He later returned to his hometown with the Panthers as a defensive backs coach (2012-14), before being named assistant head coach in 2015 and defensive coordinator in 2017.
"Steve loves this area, loves Charlotte," Tepper said. "If you're somebody who loves this area (and) loves Charlotte, of course, you're going to be a little bit excited."
Wilks also served as the Browns defensive coordinator in 2019, and later had a college job as the Missouri's defensive coordinator in 2021.
Wilks has already made some initial moves in his new position, parting ways with defensive coordinator Phil Snow and assistant special teams coach Ed Foley on Monday afternoon.
As for Wilks' potential to eventually earn the head job full-time, Tepper said "no promises were made" when they had their initial conversation, acknowledging there is a sizable chunk of the season left.
"He's in a position to be in consideration for that position," Tepper said. "Obviously, if he does an incredible job, he does have to be in consideration for that."
Steve Wilks has coached in Carolina (2022, 2012-17), Cleveland (2019), Arizona (2018), San Diego (2009-11) and Chicago (2006-08) in the NFL.