After just one season as Missouri's defensive coordinator, Steve Wilks is moving back to the National Football League.
Wilks has accepted a position coaching the Carolina Panthers secondary under head coach Matt Rhule, the Panthers announced Wednesday.
Wilks' official title is defensive pass game coordinator and secondary coach.
The deal moved quickly, as Carolina interviewed Wilks early Wednesday morning and the two sides agreed to terms by around midday, the Charlotte Observer reported.
Wilks' departure from Missouri comes after he reportedly interviewed for the New York Giants' vacant defensive coordinator position over the weekend.
The Panthers interviewed Steve Wilks early this morning and agreed to terms with him before 12:30 p.m.
They had an eye on him well before today. https://t.co/EHym6hwcQy
— Jonathan M Alexander (@jonmalexander) February 9, 2022
Wilks is a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, and previously was on the coaching staff of his hometown Panthers from 2012-17, serving as defensive coordinator in 2017.
He then was the Arizona Cardinals' head coach in 2018 and the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator in 2019 before taking a year away from coaching. He was hired by Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz last offseason.
“We wish Steve, Marci and their family the best as they return home to Charlotte,” Drinkwitz wrote in a statement Wednesday. “Coach Wilks was a strong asset to our program and our staff. We thank him for his commitment to Mizzou football.”
Missouri will be on to its third defensive coordinator in three seasons, moving from Ryan Walters in 2020, to Wilks in 2021 and now another hire for the 2022 season.
Wilks earned a base salary of $800,000 during his lone season in Columbia as part of a two-year contract. His salary was set to increase to $1 million in 2022, with the potential for up to $600,000 in additional retention bonuses if he stayed the whole contract.
"I never allowed what I do to identify who I am as a person, meaning I didn't really need the NFL shield to say, 'OK, I'm coaching in the league,'" Wilks said after being hired at Missouri in January 2021. "I wanted a great situation. I wanted a situation that I felt was going in the right direction from a standpoint of culture, standpoint of leadership."
Wilks' defense came under scrutiny in the 2021 season as the Tigers struggled to stop the run in games against Boston College, Kentucky and, most notably, Tennessee. However, the defense improved as the season progressed.
Against North Texas and South Carolina, the Tigers forced two turnovers that were returned for touchdowns in wins.
The defense, however, struggled to stop Army on the final drive of the season in the Armed Forces Bowl, as the Black Knights drove down the field in the final minute to kick a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Missouri players expressed their appreciation for their former defensive coordinator following the news of his departure.
"Steve Wilks is the greatest representation of a man that I have ever seen," MU safety Martez Manuel wrote on social media. "This man taught me so much about how to persevere and block out the noise on the field. But also how to succeed as a black man in America. Truly a great coach, but an even better man."
Steve Wilks is the greatest representation of a man that I have ever seen. This man taught me so much about how to persevere and block out the noise on the field. But also how to succeed as a black man in America. Truly a great coach, but an even better man. Congrats coach!! ❤️ https://t.co/9xTuRH18A1
— Tezo (@martezmanuel13) February 9, 2022
Wilks served not only as Missouri's defensive coordinator but also its cornerbacks coach, which was a recent addition to his plate.
After cornerbacks coach Aaron Fletcher departed for Arizona State and safeties coach Charlie Harbison stepped down, Drinkwitz hired Blake Baker to coach the safeties. Wilks was then set to take over coaching the cornerbacks.
Drinkwitz was primed to have a bigger role for Wilks in his second season, as Drinkwitz said Wilks was in on the interviews for the different staff additions. This includes the recently hired Baker, whom Drinkwitz had high praise for.
Baker has experience as a defensive coordinator with Miami (Fla.) and Louisiana Tech.
"That was an opportunity to add somebody who has coordinating experience at the collegiate level, who has seen a lot of different things, been in the SEC, been in the ACC, can be a sounding board for Steve and continue to help us improve," Drinkwitz said of Baker earlier this month. "Somebody who can really be a No. 2 in that room."
That No. 2 also provides Drinkwitz with an opportunity to promote from within, as Baker's past experience makes him a natural internal candidate.
Whether Drinkwitz decides to promote from within or begin a nationwide coaching search, he will continue on the task he set out on from the beginning of October, which was to improve the defense.
"We must make improvements on the defensive side of the ball," he said last week. "We did improve in the second half of the season, but by no means are we satisfied."
Chris Kwiecinski is the sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune, overseeing University of Missouri and Boone County sports coverage. Follow him on Twitter @OchoK_ and contact him at CKwiecinsk@gannett.com or 435-414-3261.
This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Carolina Panthers hire Steve Wilks from Missouri football