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Carolina Panthers

"I've been here when it's good," said the man from here


CHARLOTTE — It would have been perfectly normal, and maybe expected, for Tuesday to feel like a celebration of Steve Wilks.

But Steve Wilks wasn't going to let it.

There's too much work to do.

If a theme came through his re-introductory press conference Tuesday, it was that Wilks wasn't going to allow the story to be about anything other than improving the Panthers' current 1-4 record.

He made several references to "keeping our focus on the Rams," and locking into the next game at a time that could have been about so many other things is, frankly and perfectly, Wilks.

Steve Wilks is a guy who exudes competence and calm and authority.

Steve Wilks is a guy who took the hard path to get to this spot.

And also, Steve Wilks is a guy who is well and truly one of us. So it's OK for fans to be more excited than he allowed himself to show Tuesday.

"I can't disregard where I'm from or where I grew up," he said, in perhaps his one more-than-passing mention of his background. "Is it dear to my heart? Yes. Am I an example for many to follow? Yes. So I understand the torch that I carry. I hope I am a great example to a lot of individuals to think they, too can make it, in any capacity. So is it important? Yes, it is."

Being a part of this city, and being a part of its sports history, is in Wilks' DNA.

He played for the Arena League's Charlotte Rage, for Billy Graham's sake, back in the Charlotte Coliseum. That old 23,000-seat barn way out on Tyvola used to be the epicenter of the city's sports scene; that was the building that opened the door for Charlotte to be an actual big-time sports town. That's where the Hornets were celebrated when they won 20 games a year, for no reason other than because they were ours.

Steve Wilks has been here for all of that. He was in this building, Bank of America Stadium, for 15-1 in 2015.

But he's also been around the NFL long enough to know that for an interim coach, nothing is promised.

In the last 10 years in the NFL, 18 interim head coaches have taken over for fired coaches during a season.

Only three of them managed a winning record (Rich Bisaccia went 7-5 with the Raiders in 2021, Gregg Williams went 5-3 with the Browns in 2018, and Pat Shurmur went 1-0 with the Eagles in 2015).

Only two of them ended up getting the full-time job the following year (Mike Mularkey in Tennessee after the 2015 season and Doug Marrone in Jacksonville the next year. Both ended up taking those teams to the playoffs).

As a group, those 18 coaches over the last decade have a combined record of 40-78 as interims.

A couple of legendary coaches got their first shots as interims (Marv Levy and Don Coryell), but mostly they're guys in difficult situations who struggle to climb out of them.

So Wilks knows what he's up against.

But he also knows enough about this place to make it matter to him to give it his all.

Steve Wilks

Asked about his process of deciding to take the position, Wilks made it clear it wasn't much of a decision to make.

"Not to the point where I even debated the situation," he said. "I want to be a part of trying to turn this thing around. 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 when it's good. I've been 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."

And if there's anyone who's at his core from and of this city, who knows what this place is about, and what it means to people in the stands, it's Steve Wilks.

So that may be why he took an understated tone Tuesday, on a day when plenty of people offered him a chance to describe what it meant for him to be a local, to be a Black head coach who wants opportunities for himself and others, or anything other than the guy in the spot he's in right now.

For Wilks, the point of Tuesday was that the Panthers were close enough for this to matter. So for him, that meant keeping his attention on the things that matter most.

If only there were a saying for the way people should handle themselves when times are hard. If only there were words to capture how you should make it about others and not yourself.

If only there were an inspiration for the way to approach the daily when you aren't necessarily promised another day, for the way you push when you can't even see the destination, but know the only thing you can control is the pushing.

If only there were someone who knew those kinds of things. Man, what a chance to deliver that kind of message to a team that could use it that would be.

"It means a lot to me; it means a lot to this organization," Wilks said of a certain franchise cornerstone. "It's just like anything. When you come to an organization, it has to be taught; it has to be understood. This is our mantra; this is what we're about.

"Yes, we do have a lot of young guys, but we're at the point in our season that it's about Keep Pounding. In order for us to turn this around, that's the mindset that we have to have."

And at the moment, there might not be anyone better to share that message.

Steve Wilks has coached in Carolina (2022, 2012-17), Cleveland (2019), Arizona (2018), San Diego (2009-11) and Chicago (2006-08) in the NFL.

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