Sometimes a promotion is just an extended two-week notice.
On Monday, the Carolina Panthers named Steve Wilks as their interim head coach after the team fired Matt Rhule, who led the franchise to two and half years of terrible football. For now, the NFL has another Black head coach amongst its ranks.
“And one thing I do know for sure — they’re not canceling our season,” Wilks told reporters earlier this week. “So, we gotta do a great job of coming together, collectively, and finding a way to turn this thing around quickly.”
On Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, the Carolina Panthers will relieve Wilks of his duties, as he’ll certainly be one of the coaches fired on Black Monday — the day after the last game of the regular season in which franchises annually clean house.
This isn’t a bold prediction. Nor is it a shot at Wilks’ talents, as he was once unfairly fired after a single season as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2018.
This is just how it works in the NFL. If you don’t believe me, ask David Culley — a Black coach who was also fired after just one year on the job. The Houston Texans chewed him up and spat him out in 2021. (There’s more to that story, but I’ll get to that later.)
As bad of a hand Wilks and Culley were dealt, there’s a group of coaches who have it even worse. When Black coaches get tagged with the interim label, it means they’re placeholders until management can’t find a permanent fix — someone who is white.
Don’t believe me?
Look at this:
- 2020: Raheem Morris takes over as the interim coach for the Atlanta Falcons after Dan Quinn is fired for starting the season 0-5. Morris won four games that season. The Falcons went on to hire Arthur Smith.
- 2020: Romeo Crennel takes over for Bill O’Brien in Houston. Crennel is let go at the end of the season. It has been speculated that the Texans wanted to hire Josh McCown as their new head coach. The journeyman QB’s only coaching experience was being an assistant at the high school level. However, Brian Flores’ lawsuit put the team in a bind. To save face, the Texans hired another Black coach, Lovie Smith, at the eleventh — 11.5 really — hour. Again, these are all rumors, but given the history of that franchise, you can be certain that all of these things definitely happened but will never be verified.
- 2016: Before he was the head coach of the Chargers, Anthony Lynn took over for Rex Ryan in Buffalo. As you know by now, Lynn wound up in California as the Bills chose Sean McDermott to be their head coach.
- 2011: Right now, Mel Tucker is the head coach at Michigan State. But, over a decade ago, he was the interim head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars after Jack Del Rio was fired. Tucker finished out the rest of the season and then he went back to being a coordinator. The Jaguars hired Mike Mularkey.
- 2011: Todd Bowles is currently in his first season as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but in 2011 he was “filling in” in Miami after Tony Sparano was fired. The Dolphins went on to hire Joe Philbin. He sucked.
- 2010: The first time Josh McDaniel was a head coach, he sucked then, too. He was fired by the Broncos and Eric Studesville was tagged as the interim. Studesville wasn’t retained as the lead man in Colorado. Denver would give that honor to John Fox.
Those are just the incidents that have occurred since 2010, as you can see why Black coaches aren’t exactly ecstatic when the interim label is burdened upon them. However, in 2011, Romeo Crennel was brought back after an interim stint when the Kansas City Chiefs hired him as head coach. The same was done for Leslie Frazier in 2010 with the Minnesota Vikings.
For comparison’s sake, since 2010, there have been 14 times when a white coach served under the interim tag. That list includes Darrell Bevell (twice), Rich Bisaccia, Bill Callahan, Joe Philbin, Steve Spagnuolo, John Fassel, Dan Campbell, Pat Shurmur, Tony Sparano, Jim Tomsula, Doug Marrone, Mike Mularkey, and Jason Garrett. Of that group, Marrone, Mularkey, and Garrett were chosen to stay on as head coaches. However, in that same time frame, there was never a time in which a Black interim coach was replaced by another Black coach.
But here’s the kicker.
When the Carolina Panthers fired Ron Rivera in 2019, a Black coach by the name of Perry Fewell took over as the interim. That’s when the team decided to hire Matt Rhule — which has brought us to this full-circle moment in which Steve Wilks is the new interim coach. This stuff writes itself.