CHARLOTTE – Steve Wilks knows what it feels like when things are going well around Bank of America Stadium. And he said Tuesday he took the job as Carolina's new interim head coach because of how much he wants to help get the 1-4 Panthers on track.
"I want to be a part in trying to help turn this thing around," Wilks said. "My history with this organization before is when we won three straight NFC South championships, so I know what it takes. I've been around here when it was good. We went to a Super Bowl, so to be able to get us back to that point is the reason why I wanted to accept and take this job."
After taking it, he began making it his own.
Hours after the Panthers parted ways with Matt Rhule Monday, Wilks moved on from defensive coordinator Phil Snow and special teams assistant Ed Foley. Snow and Foley have longstanding ties to Rhule.
"Two great men, two great coaches – it was my call and my decision," Wilks said. "I just felt like I wanted a different approach moving forward. That was all."
Wilks said defensive assistant head coach Al Holcomb would take over calling the defense. Holcomb and Wilks have history, working together at Carolina from 2013-17. Holcomb was also Wilks' defensive coordinator when Wilks was the Cardinals' head coach in 2018.
"Al is someone I've been around for a long time," Wilks said. "(He's) someone I trust; a very smart guy, understands the game, has been here before with this organization when we've had success. (He has) a great rapport with the players, and I know he's going to get it going in the right direction."
Wilks said cornerbacks coach Evan Cooper will take on more responsibility with the secondary, as Wilks was the Panthers' defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach before taking on the interim role.
On offense, where the Panthers have the most room to grow, Wilks is looking to create momentum and consistency.
Wilks said he had spoken with McAdoo on "several occasions" throughout the first 24 hours of his interim coach tenure. While he kept details of his conversations with McAdoo vague, Wilks said he felt the Panthers already have the talent to succeed on offense.
"I feel like there are certain things that I want to be able to get done schematically that I feel like are going to give us an opportunity and chance to progress and move forwards," Wilks said. "Those conversations have been between he and I. He's very receptive to those, and I think we're going to be able to get things going in the right direction."
Going in the right direction would start with identifying an essential piece of its offense – the quarterback.
Baker Mayfield, who Wilks worked alongside for one year in 2019 at Cleveland, was off to one of the worst starts in the league before he sustained a high ankle sprain in the last game against San Francisco. Mayfield headed up the league's lowest-ranked total offense (271.4 yards per game) and 28th-ranked passing offense (181.6 yards per game).
Wilks said he wouldn't know how long Mayfield would be out until he sees an injury report on Wednesday, but he expressed confidence in the only other quarterback available to start – PJ Walker.
"PJ is up and ready," Wilks said. "He does a great job being a pro and preparing each and every day. I have total confidence in him if he has to step in and play."
Preseason injuries have kept quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Matt Corral from the field. Corral is out for his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury, but Darnold could return from injured reserve once he's cleared from a high ankle sprain. Wilks said he couldn't yet provide a timeframe on Darnold's return. The Panthers also have 6-foot-6 Jacob Eason as an option from the practice squad.
Amid the uncertainty at quarterback, Wilks mentioned one of his goals on offense would be to establish the run.
The Panthers' highlight on the offensive side of the ball is running back Christian McCaffrey, who is back to form after two injury-diluted seasons. McCaffrey has totaled 512 scrimmage yards this season, 324 of which came on 49 rushing attempts through five games.
Defensively, Wilks said he didn't plan on making drastic changes schematically. Carolina's defense has largely been the bright spot of a challenging season, and Wilks said the main change he'll look for is in week-by-week adjustments. He also discussed the importance of defending against the run to keep opponents one-dimensional.
"I think what we've done in the past has been great, but I think you ought to constantly evolve each and every week in the things that we try to do, particularly (based) on who we're playing," Wilks said. "Everything is predicated off your opponent."
Wilks said he has confidence in the Panthers' locker room, their work ethic, and how they practice. Turning a corner will come down to the entire team executing and finishing the games, he said, and one player can't bear all the responsibility.
"The focus to me is not on one person," Wilks said. "I think offensively (and) defensively, there are 11 guys out there, and I can't pinpoint one guy who's going to win the football game for you. We've all got to do our job collectively."
While Wilks said he feels like the players believe in the talent in Carolina's locker room, they know they aren't "hitting the mark" with how it's currently going. And he told the team he'll be willing to give everyone around the team a look as he looks for solutions.
"As I stated to the players, the opportunity for everybody – whether you're on practice squad, active roster, or not – you're going to have the opportunity to be able to play," Wilks said. "We're sitting at a point where, right now, to do the same thing over and over again; you know the definition. That's insanity.
We've got to find the right mix, and if that's a guy moving up from the practice squad (who is) going to give us a better opportunity, I'm definitely going to look at that."
For all the talk about adjustments to the scheme or changing up personnel, the message will all come back to finding consistency, results, and a winning combination – and soon. That's part of the message Wilks gave the team when they met Monday.
"One thing I do know for sure, they're not canceling our season," Wilks said. "So we've got to do a great job of coming together collectively and finding a way to turn this thing around quickly. I'm excited about this opportunity. I'm excited about the men we have in this locker room. I feel like we have the right pieces in place to create some movement going forward."
Steve Wilks has coached in Carolina (2022, 2012-17), Cleveland (2019), Arizona (2018), San Diego (2009-11) and Chicago (2006-08) in the NFL.