By HCR Staff | Aug. 7, 2018
Between now and the start of the 2018 season, Head Coach Ranking will provide a scouting report on all 32 NFL head coaches. Today, we’ll take a look at Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks.
Wilks will be the only rookie head coach in the NFC West this season. Well, he has had previous head coaching experience (Savannah State 1999), but it was a long time ago. Additionally, Wilks has had only one year as an NFL coordinator. So his resume is relatively thin when it comes to experience exercising decision-making and judgment.
Most recently, Wilks was with the Carolina Panthers for the last six seasons (as defensive backs coach from 2012-16 and defensive coordinator last season). Given that, it’s possible Wilks will pattern the play of the Cardinals after that of the Panthers – ball control on offense shared with a physical defense.
As for decision-making, however, we don’t know how Wilks will perform. For the last six years, he’s watched Ron Rivera, who is rather unorthodox and coaches from the gut and not “the book” — hence, the nickname “Riverboat Ron.”
But just because Rivera operates from the gut doesn’t mean Wilks will do the same. What we do see among rookie head coaches is a pattern with respect to areas of misjudgment, and those areas typically involve mismanaging the clock, use of timeouts, and in-game adjustments.
Last season, rookie head coaches Kyle Shanahan and Anthony Lynn, notably, made some earl-season misjudgments (at least in our view) that cost them games. Both improved as the season wore on; on the other hand, we saw slower improvement with rookie head coach Vance Joseph.
Where will Wilks fall within this range? We don’t know, but we do know he already is handicapped to a certain extent with his GM, Steve Keim, serving a suspension, having a starting QB (Sam Bradford) coming off a significant injury, and having the best offensive player (RB David Johnson) also coming back from a season-long injury.
For a rookie head coach, it’s not an ideal situation, although he will get a lot of help perhaps from former head coach Mike McCoy, who will serve as his OC. McCoy could offer helpful guidance during games.
We’ll be watching Wilks carefully in the first quarter of the season. We expect a few hiccups — that is natural. After all, Bill Belichick as a young head coach and GM once drafted a fullback (Tommy Vardell) in the top 10. Even Belichick had growing to do.