There’s something poetic about the rich getting richer in the NFL. The latest example of a rich team making the best move for its franchise comes from a rich individual who can’t see the writing on the wall in front of him. Enter David Tepper, who unfortunately had the loudest voice in the room on hiring the next Carolina Panthers’ head coach, and didn’t choose to retain interim coach Steve Wilks for the permanent job. He went with Frank Reich instead in a hire that exactly no one thought was a bang-up job. It’s a C on the report card if we’re being nice, and we have no reason to be.
Wilks landed on his feet Tuesday with reports surfacing that he’ll be the 49ers’ new defensive coordinator. A defensive savant with a track record of turning around defenses and elevating even already-elite talent was just given a silver platter. If the 49ers figure out its quarterback situation, they’ll be in multiple Super Bowls over the next five years. Combine that with Brian Flores leaving his role as a defensive assistant with the Steelers to become Minnesota’s defensive coordinator. While the Vikings’ defense is far from the Lamborghini in San Francisco, maintaining the turnaround started last season in the Twin Cities looks much more plausible.
What’s the trend with those two hires? If you said anything about pure football in response to that, clear your head. Two Black coaches qualified enough to be head coaches right now, and should be leading teams in Charlotte and Miami right now, and who’ve been denied that opportunity a disproportionate amount of times are leading defenses instead. That’s not a bad consolation prize, yet both men are set up for success in their new roles where they should be head coaches again soon. The most important words of the preceding sentence — SHOULD BE, as Flores and Wilks are associated with the former’s lawsuit against the NFL, the Dolphins, and others.
The Vikings were a huge mystery as to how good they actually were most of this season. With an improved defense, they don’t have the threat to challenge a long reign atop the NFC North. Losing Ed Donatell for Flores is such an obvious upgrade but Minnesota isn’t winning a championship with Kirk Cousins behind center, but that’s an argument for another time. The 49ers might be a healthy quarterback away from preparing to play in a Super Bowl right now. Even if Brock Purdy at full strength wouldn’t have been enough to defeat the Eagles, not too many things have to change for San Francisco to win a Super Bowl. And Wilks taking over for DeMeco Ryans, who accepted the vacant Texans head-coaching position, is phenomenal in that direction.
Instead of Carolina continuing to progress in the worst division in football, a lifeline given to Reich is a reality and doesn’t seem as promising. Flores’ trajectory in Miami has been well-documented and his being fired by Stephen Ross is still beyond comprehension, even if Mike McDaniel did lead the Dolphins to the playoffs this season. Two teams already occupying playoff spots this season just cemented their spots at the top of the NFC for a long time. And Wilks and Flores should thrive, making every NFL owner’s case weaker for them not to be head coaches moving forward.