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Steve Wilks, Lawyers Express Disappointment With Panthers Hiring Frank Reich

4:15 PM EST on January 27, 2023

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 23: Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich coaches during the Tennessee Titans game versus the Indianapolis Colts on October 23, 2022, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, TN. (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire)
Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Thursday, the Carolina Panthers announced that hiring of Frank Reich as their next head coach. Reich will take over the Panthers months after he was fired by the Colts, and he'll be returning to a franchise where he has some strong connections; Reich was the Panthers' first starting quarterback, joining the team for its inaugural 1995 season and starting three games before ceding the job to Kerry Collins. He is the second member of the Reich family to join the Panthers this offseason, as ProFootballTalk reported yesterday that the Panthers' marketing department hired his daughter, Hannah Reich Fairman, just two weeks before Frank was hired.

The Panthers job was the first head coach gig to open up this past season, when Matt Rhule was booted just five games into the season on Oct. 10. Defensive assistant and former Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks was promoted to interim head coach of the 1-4 team, though owner David Tepper stressed at the time that Wilks would have to go above and beyond to earn the permanent job. "He’s in a position to be in consideration for that position," Tepper said, redundantly. "I had a talk with Steve, no promises were made, but if he does an incredible job, he has to be in consideration."

Fair enough. Wilks then took a woeful Panthers team that traded their best player to the 49ers and had to toggle between Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield at quarterback to the brink of an NFC South title. Wilks went 6-6 in his 12-game tenure and galvanized the locker room to the point that many of the team's most prominent players publicly called for Wilks to stay on as head coach. He did as good a job as anyone could have done given the structural limitations, yet, like many black coaches before him, Wilks didn't get the permanent job. He expressed his disappointment in a statement on Friday morning.

This past April, Wilks joined Brian Flores's racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL, alleging that the Cardinals used him as a "bridge coach" and did not provide him with "any meaningful chance to succeed." Seeing as how Wilks's tenures in Carolina and Arizona ended in somewhat similar ways, one wonders if the Panthers could be added to the suit. The lawyers representing him in that case said they were shocked at Reich's hiring, and promised they'd "have more to say in the coming days."

For his part, Reich had been out of a job since he was fired by the Colts last November. Given the errant Bill Belichick text message that revealed the Giants' hiring of Brian Daboll was a fait accompli, and that Flores's interview with the team last year was a sham conducted only to satisfy the Rooney Rule, it's fair to raise an eyebrow here about the hiring process. That's especially true since the Panthers gave Reich's daughter her first NFL job (according to her LinkedIn profile, anyway) two weeks before hiring the elder Reich. For her part, she says she started interviewing for the gig while her dad was still coaching the Colts.

It is worth stressing that Frank Reich is technically qualified for the job, and that this could very well be a coincidence. If it is, however, it is a coincidence that fits very neatly into the pattern of NFL teams passing over qualified black coaches.

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