New Cardinals coach Steve Wilks addresses the media Tuesday during his introductory press conference.
As he does with his free-agent "ready" list with players in case roster moves have to be made, Steve Keim long had created something similar for potential head coaching candidates.
"I didn't know how long Bruce (Arians) was going to coach," the Cardinals General Manager said. "It's my job to prepare for the future."
Steve Wilks was high on that list.
There were reasons the 48-year-old Wilks belonged there despite his name being less than nationally known. He was only the Panthers' defensive coordinator for one year, although he had been Ron Rivera's assistant head coach for a few years before that. That fact resonated with Keim and team president Michael Bidwill, as did Wilks' forceful personality – which was unveiled Tuesday as Wilks was officially introduced as the Cardinals' newest coach.
"You guys made the right decision," Wilks said during his opening statement, after turning to Bidwill and Keim. "I really believe that."
Wilks showed up Tuesday morning to get started on a long list of to-do items. The biggest is filling out a staff, which in a perfect world would be no later than the Super Bowl on Feb. 4. Interviews are ongoing, including with some holdover assistants from Arians' staff.
-- Multiple reports say former Broncos head coach Mike McCoy and former Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell are among those who will interview for Wilks' offensive coordinator job. Multiple reports say Wilks could name Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb as his defensive coordinator. New Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner also said Tuesday that Panthers offensive line coach Ray Brown will join Wilks' staff.
-- Wilks wasn't specific about any assistants, but said he is looking for teachers and communication from his entire staff. "It's not about yelling and screaming," he said. The teaching aspect of coaching was crucial in building a roster, Wilks said, using as an example to rise of one-time fifth-round pick Josh Norman to all-pro heights when he coached the cornerback in Carolina.
"You make your wealth in this league by developing players," he said.
-- Asked about the roster overall, Wilks immediately brought up "the elephant in the room – we don't have a quarterback." He said there would be an "active and aggressive" plan in free agency for that position, and then "we'll see" what happens in the draft. But the new coach reiterated that the Cardinals were not in a rebuilding situation. "We're going to put a quality team on the field that will give us an opportunity to win each and every week," he said.
-- After coaching in both 3-4 and 4-3 defensive schemes in his career, Wilks put to bed quickly any concerns he would tinker much with a defense that was sixth in the NFL in total defense and has the personnel for a 3-4 base alignment.
"We're not going to try to change too much," he said. "If it's not broke, don't try to fix it."
Wilks talked again about his underlying theme – trust, commitment, and accountability – and what he wanted the DNA of the Cardinals to be about. It starts with physicality and effort. It means being smart, as
he emphasized his disdain for pre-snap penalties (a lack of discipline) and post-snap (being selfish.) It means finishing, whether that is in a game, or a practice or a walkthrough.
That culture needs to encompass the entire organization, Wilks added.
"The way we tackle, the way we block, the way we catch, the way we cook the food, the way that we operate in the training room, the way we answer the phone and the way that we cut the grass," Wilks said. "It's many parts but one body of work."
Said Bidwill with a smile, "we're all going to get better with Coach Wilks in this building, including me."
Keim had originally met Wilks through David Merritt, Keim's one-time teammate at North Carolina State and current Giants secondary coach. By the time Arians stepped down, Wilks "was a guy who we had focused on from the start," Keim said.
The process of talking to multiple candidates took Bidwill and Keim around the country and delivered to them a lot of information on how teams operated, beyond just what a coach might make with a head job.
Bidwill had talked about getting second interviews, and there were reports the Cardinals would still be talking to Super Bowl assistants this week. But that was never going to happen, not after a second interview with Wilks on Friday. Bidwill and Keim knew Saturday they had found their coach.
"He backed up everything we had heard about him," Bidwill said.
Images of new Cardinals coach Steve Wilks at some of his past stops