CHARLOTTE – When head coach Ron Rivera announced that pass defense coordinator Steve Wilks was being promoted to assistant head coach at a recent staff meeting, wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl said what many in the room were likely thinking.
"I thought Steve was doing that already."
Wilks has essentially been Rivera's right hand man since he came to Carolina to coach the secondary in 2012. Now, he has a new official title.
"I'm very excited, and I think it's a great opportunity," Wilks said. "It's some of the things that I've been doing for him in the past; it's just adding the title and doing some other things as far scheduling and planning.
"It gives you an understanding of the day-to-day operations. There's a lot of value in it."
Before they reunited in Carolina, Rivera and Wilks coached together in Chicago (2006) and San Diego (2009-10).
"It's a bond we have built over the years that I really cherish," Wilks said.
And there is a lot of trust between the two. That's why Rivera has continually relied on Wilks in times of need.
When Rivera's house caught fire in January, Wilks led the team meeting while Rivera handled everything on the home front. In 2013 when Rivera was ill, Wilks stepped in and directed practice. He also led the Saturday night team meeting prior to the game on Sunday versus the St. Louis Rams.
"There's been several times where he's had to do certain things and I would run the team, run meetings, run practice," said Wilks, who also served as assistant head coach under Norv Turner in San Diego in 2011. "I feel very comfortable doing it."
Wilks knows how Rivera wants his team run. He's in tune with Rivera's philosophy. But he also has his own viewpoint, his own opinions, and he's encouraged to share them.
"A head coach is always looking for a guy to be honest with him so he can see certain things in a different light," Wilks said. "I think I've been able to do that."
Wilks aspires to be an NFL head coach and believes this title gives him an opportunity to further develop. But his No. 1 priority is the continued development of the Panthers' secondary.
"The great thing about this title is I still understand my role and my responsibility – which is to make this secondary the best secondary in the NFL," Wilks said. "I've been given extra duties to be able to grow, and that's a plus for me."