Steve Wilks is heading into his second year as the Carolina Panthers’ secondary coach and pass defense coordinator. Before dealing with an injury-plagued 2012 season, he was promoted from a secondary coach to his current position in 2011 and helped the Panthers’ pass defense improve from 24th to 13th that season. This led to an overall defense ranking of 10th in the NFL that year. A Charlotte native, Wilks returned home to Carolina from the San Diego Chargers. Wilks coached 11 seasons on the college level, which included Appalachian State University (ASU), Washington University and Notre Dame. A product of West Charlotte High School, Wilks was a standout defensive back at ASU from 1987-91.
Wilks also works with high school football players during the summer at his Steve Wilks Elite Defensive Back Academy. Wilks shared about his coaching career, strong Christian values and his love for mentoring young athletes.
Q: What can I expect to get as a football team when I hire Steve Wilks?
A: Number one, you’re going to get a great teacher. Everyone talks about coaching, but number one, we’re teachers first. I tell guys that I teach during the week, and that I coach on Sundays. You want a guy who understands people. Sometimes coaches get so caught up in X’s and O’s. … Relating to the players is what’s most important, having a true genuine care for your players as individuals beyond the game of football. Football is important but there’s life after football. … I’m into building a foundation with these young men, from a standpoint of giving these men something beyond the game. I have a lot of passion and love for the game, but I’m all about truly developing the person, and leading by example.
Q: What is your philosophy in coaching and working with incoming NFL rookies today?
A: I believe that it starts with consistency; I believe everything is about establishing a foundation that starts with trust, commitment and accountability. I want my players to build trust in me, and I want to build trust in them. … I tell my guys this all the time; it’s not always about what you want to hear. … I believe it is telling players what they need to hear. Sometimes we cater to young men because of their accolades coming out of high school and college. Most of the guys want to be coached … and they want to get better. … I teach and coach them hard, and I … demand a lot from them. That’s my philosophy. … When they’re doing great, I’m going to love them up, but when they step out of line on or off the field … they definitely will know about it.
Most days Steve Wilks is teaching, not coaching, football. Wilks, the Carolina Panthers’ secondary coach and pass defense coordinator, has helped the team to improve its defense.
Q: Do you find that NFL coaches are constantly challenged by who players are hanging around with off the field?
A: You’re exactly right. You’re defined as a person and whom you associate yourself with. … I tell my guys all the time, “Don’t sacrifice what you want for the moment … but what you really want for a lifetime.” You talk about a great career and playing a game of football. … Sometimes you can get caught up in the moment that can lead to associating with the wrong crowd. I tell my players … “As you grow in life sometimes you got to leave some of your old friends behind. … And that’s all right because they’re not going to help you grow. They’re going to hinder your growth. It’s so important to always surround yourself with people who are going to make you better.” I also want to surround myself and my family with those who can help us grow spiritually, and that’s how I live my life. Every day I’m trying to get better as a husband, as a father and as a coach. Sadly, in life sometimes rehabilitation doesn’t occur until the consequences get severe enough.
Q: You have a great commitment to teaching. Do you believe that teachers and coaches have a higher calling?
A: My biggest thing is sometimes we’re so caught up in the accolades and winning championships, and the pressure of winning at every level is so high now, but the true measurement of a champion does not live within a trophy case. … It lives in the heart that he or she touched. As coaches and teachers with influence on these young people, we have to understand … we’re here to put a great product on the field, but if we’re not trying to make a difference in the lives of these young men and young women we interact with in coaching, we’re missing the whole point.
Q: You are committed to the development of young players on and off the field through your Steve Wilks Elite Defensive Back Football Academy. In your estimation where are we with this generation of athletes?
A: There’s so much exposure and attention that the student athletes are getting at a young age. Sometimes there’s a sense of entitlement there. What I think has been left out is the value of earning certain things – the value of hard work in putting the time and effort in getting what you deserve. To me you can’t neglect the value of putting in the hard work. And overall, people forget what our society is all about and what made America great … work ethic.
Q: What would you tell parents about the value of extra curricular activities and the right approach to being involved in sports?
A: The key is that you don’t want to burn kids out when it comes to sports activities. Don’t try to pressure them into being what you want to be but allowing them to develop, grow and experience the game from a team-building standpoint. Getting those true values and skills will help them to develop in life. I know that’s what sports teaches you. I agree with the exposure and giving them an opportunity to expose their talents, but not pressure your youngsters to be that elite player. … I tell parents all the time who have athletes that can go to college and play is to focus on the quality of education where they have the opportunity to compete and get a scholarship. Focus on being the best you can be no matter what level you are on (in sports). I tell parents to give your children every opportunity to explore and experience sports.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roman Gabriel is an evangelist and motivational speaker. His Sold Out Sports Talk Radio program on American Family Radio can be heard in 200 cities nationally or streaming live at afr.net. It’s all about faith, family and sports. Visit his website: soldouttv.com; Facebook page: Roman Gabriel III Fan Page; connect with him on Twitter: romangabriel3rd; email him: [email protected] or call 910-431-6483. For more stories from Gabriel, visit here.)