The last time the Carolina Panthers lost an assistant coach to a head coaching job, Panthers coach Ron Rivera interviewed a couple of external candidates before promoting Mike Shula to offensive coordinator.
The process of finding a replacement for defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who was named the Buffalo Bills’ head coach Wednesday, won’t take nearly as long.
Rivera will promote assistant head coach/secondary coach Steve Wilks, according to two team sources with knowledge of the situation. An announcement on Wilks could come as soon as Thursday.
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McDermott is expected to take Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb with him as the Bills’ defensive coordinator, a league source said. Holcomb has worked closely with McDermott the past four seasons since arriving in Charlotte.
But the transition from McDermott to Wilks should be relatively seamless, which is one of the reasons Rivera prefers to hire from within the organization.
Rivera and Wilks worked together in Chicago and San Diego before Wilks joined him on the Panthers’ staff in 2012. It has been understood for several years that Wilks would become the defensive coordinator if McDermott left, the sources said.
That day came Wednesday, when McDermott realized his long-stated goal of becoming a head coach.
McDermott, 42, a former Philadelphia Eagles assistant, oversaw a top-10 defense in four of his six seasons with Carolina. He was the only coordinator to lead a top-10 unit every year from 2012-2015.
Both Rivera and Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, McDermott’s boss in Philadelphia, have praised McDermott’s head-coaching makeup in recent weeks.
On Wednesday, Rivera said he was “very happy” for McDermott and his wife, Jamie.
“He has earned the opportunity,” Rivera said in a text message.
The Panthers’ defense is not expected to change much under Wilks, who will stick with McDermott’s 4-3 scheme while putting his own stamp on it.
Wilks, 47, who interviewed for the Los Angeles Rams’ head coaching position last week, will lean heavily on defensive line coach Eric Washington, a well-respected assistant who is entering his seventh season on Rivera’s staff.
Rivera will have two hires to make if Holcomb leaves with McDermott.
He could shift assistant special teams coach Chase Blackburn to linebackers coach. Blackburn played linebacker in the NFL for 10 seasons, including his last two with Carolina before retiring after the 2014 season.
As for filling Wilks’ position, Rivera could turn to longtime NFL assistant and Gastonia native Perry Fewell.
Fewell, 54, interviewed for the Panthers’ head coaching position in 2011 before Rivera was hired. Fewell and Rivera were together in Chicago on Lovie Smith’s Bears staff for one season in 2005.
Fewell was fired in Washington last week along with defensive coordinator Joe Barry and defensive line coach Robb Akey.