TEMPE – A strong locker room culture defined Bruce Arians’ tenure with the Arizona Cardinals.
The team knew the shoes Arians left to fill would be big, but president Michael Bidwill and general manager Steve Keim are confident they found somebody with the same discipline and pedigree to keep that culture running smoothly.
Steve Wilks, the defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers, was introduced Tuesday as the Cardinals new head coach.
“We were focused on somebody who could be a great leader for the Cardinals,” Bidwill said, “somebody who had a track record of success at multiple organizations and would continue this great culture of accountability that’s been around this organization for a number of years.”
Although Wilks hasn’t had a head coaching job since 1999, at Savannah State University, he still has 23 years of coaching experience under his belt, including stints with the Bears and Chargers. He plans to continue his success in a precise, clear-cut manner with the Cardinals.
“When you look at coming into a new situation, you always talk about trying to establish a culture. We want to establish a culture of winning, and I want that culture to transcend with everybody in this organization. It’s about a commitment to excellence,” Wilks said. “Excellence when we go out on the field, the way we cook the food, the way we operate in the training room, the way we answer the phone, and the way we cut the grass.”
Wilks’ attention to detail has translated into success from the training ground to the football field.
The Panthers were ranked 21st in defense in the 2016 season. Wilks took over as defensive coordinator for 2017 and the Panthers jumped to the seventh-best defensive team in the 32-team league.
The Cardinals were actually ranked one spot ahead of Carolina’s defense in 2017 as the sixth best defensive team in the NFL. Wilks knows there isn’t much that has to be changed on the defensive side.
“As I told Mike and I told Steve, this is not a rebuild, this is a retool,” he said. “I think we have the pieces in place when you look at the talent level on both sides of the ball.
“There’s an elephant in the room: We don’t have a quarterback. We’re going to have a very active and aggressive plan for free agency. But we’re going to put a quality team on the field that’s going to give us an opportunity to win each and every week.”
Keim also knows Wilks is the right man for the job to maintain the culture Arizona has revealed in the past few years.
“There was no doubt in my mind or in Michael’s mind that Steve Wilks fits in here and could be the type of coach that takes us to the next level,” Keim said. “Our goal all along wasn’t only just to find the best coach. It was to find the best leader and it was evident to Michael and I that Steve Wilks was the best leader of that pool. When you get to know Steve Wilks, you can tell that he has that innate leadership skill that very few people have.”
Although the Cardinals missed the postseason two years in a row, Wilks is confident that he can turn things around for Arizona.
He didn’t shy away from his plan, and he is not intimidated by the bright lights as he starts his first NFL head coaching job.
“There’s many parts to one body at work, and we’re all working towards one common goal, and that’s to bring a world championship here to the Arizona Cardinals,” he said. “I’m committed right now to doing everything I can to put this organization in the best situation to winning a championship.”
He is confident, too. During the press conference, he turned to his new bosses and said, “You made the right decision.”