TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Steve Wilks took over as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals saying he was humbled by the job but exhibiting an abundance of confidence that he can do it well.
The 48-year-old coach, promoted after just one season as defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, was introduced at a news conference Tuesday, bringing a reputation of connecting easily with his players as he replaces Bruce Arians, who retired after five colorful seasons and 50 victories in Arizona.
“We found a great leader,” Cardinals President Michael Bidwill said, “and not just a leader with a high football IQ but also a high football ‘EQ’ (emotional quotient). He doesn’t just coach football players, he coaches people.”
Wilks, who gets a four-year contract with a team option for a fifth, described his coaching style as “very passionate, persistent and very positive.”
“I’m going to tell you right now,” Wilks said, looking at Bidwill and general manager Steve Keim, “you guys made the right decision.”
In a later interview, Wilks said, “It’s hard to blend in when you’re born to stand tall.”
Bidwill said he heard nothing but good things about Wilks from his former players, many of them unsolicited.
“I know what he brings to the table. I know what they’re getting,” Washington Redskins and ex-Panthers cornerback Josh Norman said in a statement provided by the Cardinals. “At the end of the day, I came from pretty much nothing to rise up to where I’m at today and he was the catalyst behind that. Position coach all the way up to the ranks of a D-coordinator for a year, and then making it now to a head coaching job; it’s crazy how that trend came for him. The conversations we have are just so enlightening. He’s a leader of men and that’s what it all boils down to.”
Keim was asked what separated Wilks from the other eight candidates interviewed for the job.
“You can become a better coach through experience,” Keim said. “But to have leadership, to me, there’s an innate part of that. And when you get to know Steve Wilks, you can tell that he has that innate leadership skill that very few people have.”
There was nary a mention of Arians at the news conference. Instead, the new coach, who gained the nickname “Denzel” back in Carolina due to his resemblance to a certain actor, provided a vision for the foundation of the franchise, while acknowledging “the elephant in the room.”
“This is not a rebuild, this is a retool,” Wilks said. “I think we have the pieces in place, when you look at both sides of the ball. There’s a question mark right now and we all know it, the elephant in the room. We don’t have a quarterback.”
This in a division that includes Jared Goff, Russell Wilson and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Keim insisted that lack of a quarterback was not a hindrance in the coaching search.
“We looked at it as a positive,” Keim said, “As Michael and I talked to the candidates, it’s ‘You really have a blank canvas. You really have an opportunity to be a part of setting us up for the future at that position.”
Asked which was harder, finding a coach or a quarterback, Keim didn’t hesitate. “A quarterback,” he said.
“We’re going to be aggressive in the process and there’s going to be a number of different options,” Keim said, “whether it’s free agency, whether it’s a trade option or whether it’s the draft, or all three.”
While all of Wilks’ 23-year coaching career (11 college, 12 NFL) are on the defensive side. He will inherit the makings of a strong defense in Arizona, anchored by the likes of NFL sack leader Chandler Jones and perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson.
But the big questions are on offense, and Wilks gave no hint as to who his offensive coordinator will be. He said he wanted his staff in place by the Super Bowl and did not rule out retaining members of the previous one.
He said he’d talked with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on the phone but doesn’t know if the star wide receiver will return for a 15th NFL season.
One of Wilks’ biggest smiles came when he talked about the return of running back David Johnson, who was lost for the season when he broke a wrist in the opener.
The Cardinals will, the new coach assured, run the ball.
Wilks’ wife, Marci, two young daughters and an even younger son watched the news conference from the front row then joined him onstage for photos.