COLUMBIA, Mo. – Mizzou head coach Eliah Drinkwitz has hired Steve Wilks as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator, as announced today. Wilks returns to the college ranks after spending 14 seasons in the NFL, including a one-year-stint as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2018. Wilks was a part of six teams that reached the NFL Playoffs, including Super Bowl appearances with the Chicago Bears (Super Bowl XLI) and Carolina Panthers (Super Bowl L). During his 14 seasons in the NFL, five players earned All-Pro recognition under his guidance.
“We are thrilled to welcome Steve Wilks and his family to Mizzou,” Drinkwitz said. “Steve has a strong reputation as a man of character and a leader of men. His experiences both as an NFL head coach and defensive coordinator are exactly what we need at Mizzou. I’m looking forward to Steve putting his fingerprints on our defense as we continue to elevate Mizzou Football to greater heights.”
Wilks most recently served as the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns in 2019, where the Browns’ passing defense ranked seventh in the NFL after allowing 216.9 yards per game. Prior to Cleveland, Wilks spent the 2018 season as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals where once again, his team’s pass defense thrived. The 2018 Cardinals ranked fourth in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (210.0) as he helped mentor Patrick Peterson to an All-Pro first-team selection. Current Mizzou defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison coached the Cardinals’ defensive backs in 2018 under Wilks.
Before his stints in the desert and at Cleveland, Wilks spent six seasons with the Carolina Panthers (2012-17), where he served as the team’s defensive backs coach (2012-16) and defensive coordinator (2017). He also held the role of assistant head coach for three seasons (2015-17). Coaching in his hometown, the Charlotte, N.C., native helped lead the Panthers to four playoff appearances in five seasons (2013, 2014, 2015, 2017) and an appearance in Super Bowl L following the 2015 season. The Panthers’ defense finished in the NFL’s top-10 in total defense in five of Wilks’ six seasons on staff, including finishing second in 2013 and seventh in 2017, his lone season as Defensive Coordinator.
Wilks led the Panthers’ defensive backs during the team’s magical 2015 season, as Carolina went 15-1 and made the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance following a 49-15 rout of the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game. Wilks helped coach Josh Norman to an All-Pro first-team selection that season after the Panthers ranked sixth in scoring defense (19.3) and 11th in passing yards per game (234.5). In 2017, Wilks was elevated to defensive coordinator and oversaw an improvement from 21st to seventh in total defense (317.1 ypg) for the Panthers. His 2017 defense also ranked third in rush defense (88.1 ypg) and 10th in scoring defense (20.4), while ILB Luke Kuechly and DT Kawann Short earned All-Pro recognition following the season.
“As I took time off to reflect over the past year, I wanted to find a good program with great people that was moving in the right direction, and without a doubt, Mizzou Football has all of that,” said Wilks. “I reached out to Coach Drinkwitz when he got the job at Appalachian State as an alum, and Coach Harbison is a good friend of mine who spoke volumes about the culture and people at Mizzou. Mizzou has things moving in a great direction and I wanted to be a part of that.
“I’ve had a reputation of building relationships everywhere I’ve been, from college to the NFL,” said Wilks. “I pride myself on being a great teacher and communicator and having the ability to get the most out of my players. Players like Josh Norman, who developed from a fifth-round draft pick into an All-Pro selection, is just one example of someone who I was able to help develop. In college, you must develop players, and I believe I can bring that to Mizzou, along with being a great communicator and teacher.”
Prior to Carolina, Wilks spent three seasons with the San Diego Chargers (2009-11) and three seasons with the Chicago Bears (2006-08), coaching the defensive backs at both stops. In San Diego, the Chargers led the NFL in total defense (271.6 ypg) and pass defense (177.8 ypg), while he helped mentor Eric Weddle to back-to-back All-Pro selections, earning first-team honors in 2011 and second-team honors in 2012. In Chicago, Wilks helped coach the Bears to an appearance in Super Bowl XLI after the 2006 season, his first in the NFL. The Bears earned top seed in the NFC Playoffs after a 13-3 record in 2006 and were led by a stout defense that ranked as the NFL’s third-best.
Prior to his 14 years in the NFL, Wilks spent 11 seasons coaching at eight schools at the college level, including a one-year stint as a head coach at Savannah State (1999), and at Power-5 programs Notre Dame (2004) and Washington (2005), where he coached the defensive backs. Wilks served as the defensive coordinator at Johnson C. Smith (1995-96), Savannah State (1997-98) and East Tennessee State (2002), and coached the defensive backs at Illinois State (2000), Appalachian State (2001) and Bowling Green (2003).
Wilks was a defensive back at Appalachian State from 1987-91 where helped the Mountaineers capture the Southern Conference championship in 1987 and 1991. He finished his collegiate career with 103 tackles, four interceptions and four blocked kicks. He attended training camp with the Seattle Seahawks in 1992 and played one season with the Charlotte Rage of the Arena Football League in 1993, playing defensive back and wide receiver.
Wilks earned his bachelor’s degree in Communications from Appalachian State. He and his wife, Marcia, have two daughters, Marissa and Melanni, and a son, Steven James.
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Steve Wilks File