On Thursday, the Panthers opted not to allow interim coach Steve Wilks to continue to build on his ability to go .500 over 12 games, after the early-season firing of Matt Rhule. Instead, owner David Tepper gave the job to Frank Reich.
The lawyer representing Wilks in his lawsuit against the NFL and the Cardinals issued a statement making clear that the Panthers will inevitably be added to the litigation. Wilks, for his own part, took a higher road when issuing a farewell statement to the Panthers.
Plenty of others connected to the broader pro football machinery will be inclined to say nothing about the situation, recognizing that the powers-that-be would prefer that no one give credence to the idea that Wilks has had his legal rights violated. Commanders coach Ron Rivera has ignored any such unspoken preferences to speak his mind about Wilks.
“Steve it has always been an honor to work with U,” Rivera said early Saturday on Twitter. “You have shown U have what it takes to be an NFL HC. I look forward to that day U are given the opportunity again!”
Wilks spent six years on the Carolina coaching staff, when Rivera served as head coach.
Some members of the “it’s America, people can hire whoever they want!” crowd point to Wilks going 9-19 as a head coach as proof that he wasn’t the right person for the job. But that includes the 3-13 season in Arizona that has become the focal point of the claim he filed against the Cardinals.
Wilks contends that 2018 was destined to be a season of failure in Arizona, especially since G.M. Steve Keim wasn’t available throughout training camp after an arrest for extreme DUI in early July. And when, as expected, the bottom fell out for the Cardinals, Wilks was the only Steve to get fired.
Wilks believes he was a “bridge coach,” with no real chance to succeed. That’s one of the arguments made when it comes to the alleged (actual) racial bias when it comes to head coaches. Black coaches become the bridge coaches, the short-term options as an owner waits to hire someone else. Or, as in Carolina, an interim head coach who possibly was never regarded as a serious option for the long-term job.
During the first hour of Friday’s PFT Live, Peter King and I talked through the various issues raised by the decision to hire Reich over Wilks. Eventually — especially if the NFL isn’t allowed to push the case into its in-house, secret, rigged kangaroo court — Tepper will be grilled relentlessly about his decision, with question after question focused on why and how Tepper opted to disregard the success Wilks had under very difficult circumstances.
The current argument as to Wilks doesn’t simply arise from racial biases inherent to NFL hiring procedures, but also from the sense that he’s viewed as a troublemaker because he dared to sue Big Shield. That theory could fuel claims against the other four teams looking for head coaches (Colts, Broncos, Texans, Cardinals) for not even giving Wilks an interview for their current vacancies. (Dear Jim Irsay, Greg Penner, Cal McNair, and Michael Bidwill: It’s still not too late.)
Again, the “it’s America, people can hire whoever they want!” crowd would say that each of those teams have complied with the Rooney Rule. For Wilks (and also Brian Flores), the issue isn’t simply about race. It’s about whether owners can set aside the fact that Wilks (and also Flores) have mustered the courage to stand tall against the oligarchs and to accuse them of decades of discriminatory practices.
Is it easy for businesses that have been sued to ignore protected activities such as the filing of a discrimination lawsuit against that business? No. Is it required by federal law? Yes.
Is it the right thing to do? You tell me.