“It hurts bad”: Charlotte youth football coaches react to Steve Wilks’ departure

The Carolina Panthers hired Frank Reich as head coach on Thursday, passing over Steve Wilks for the permanent position.
Published: Jan. 26, 2023 at 10:08 PM EST

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - When he named Steve Wilks the interim head coach last October, Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper was asked if Wilks would be in consideration to remain on as the team’s permanent head coach after the season.

Tepper’s response: “If he does an incredible job, he’d have to be in consideration for that.”

Apparently, by Tepper’s criteria, finishing the remainder of the season with a 6-6 record after a 1-4 start, and remaining in the playoff hunt into January was not incredible enough of a job.

The Panthers announced Thursday afternoon that former Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich will be the franchise’s sixth head coach, a decision met with plenty of division among Panthers fans.

Brannon Jett played high school football with Wilks at West Charlotte High School, and said today’s news was hard to process.

“I’m gonna be honest with you man. It hurts. It hurts bad,” Jett said.

Donnell Gardner has been coaching youth football in Charlotte for 12 years, and says it meant the world for his players to finally see somebody who looks like them leading the hometown team.

“Sometimes they feel like their dreams are limited,” Gardner said. “But to see somebody come from where they come from, and reach that level. To see someone look just like them, allowed them to dream big.”

The passing over of Wilks for the permanent job comes at a time when the NFL’s hiring practices regarding minority coaches is under fire.

Last offseason, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores was fired despite winning 19 games in his final two seasons, and impressing many around the league. He subsequently filed a lawsuit against the NFL a short time later, which Wilks later joined.

Now, following the hiring of Reich, Wilks’ legal representatives are once again speaking out.

“We are shocked and disturbed that after the incredible job Coach Wilks did as the interim coach, including bringing the team back into Playoff contention and garnering the support of the players and fans, that he was passed over for the Head Coach position by David Tepper,” Wigdor Law wrote in a statement on Twitter.

The statement continued: “There is a legitimate race problem in the NFL, and we can assure you that we will have more to say in the coming days.”

It remains to be seen where, or even if, Wilks will coach in 2023, but according to reports, he likely won’t be returning to Carolina.

Related: Attorney of Steve Wilks ‘shocked and disturbed’ after Panthers hire Frank Reich