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The Knowns and Unknowns of the Steve Wilks defensive coordinator hire for Mizzou


Today we found out former NFL defensive coordinator and head coach Steve Wilks was hired by Eli Drinkwitz to be Mizzou's next defensive coordinator. First thing I'll say is this is Mizzou fans should be very excited about this hire. Wilks may not be your typical high-upside candidate but he's a proven commodity and a clear upgrade from Ryan Walters. Of course, there are plenty of questions surrounding Wilks and whether or not he's the guy. We're going to try and answer all of your questions by stating the knowns and unknowns of Wilks as a coach and how he'll fit into the job.



Known: He's been a successful defensive coach

Make no mistake, Steve Wilks has had success as a position coach and defensive coordinator. Many will point to his head coach stint with the Arizona Cardinals as to why he isn't good but it's widely known Wilks got a raw deal. Bruce Arians retired so they gave the job to Wilks who was working with one of the worst rosters in football and when the Cardinals clinched the No.1 pick in the draft they wanted Kyler Murray and an offensive coach to go with him so they ousted Wilks. If you go back and take a closer look at Wilks' resume he's a pretty good coach. First he coached defensive backs for the Super Bowl Carolina Panthers in 2015 and became Carolina's defensive coordinator after that where he posted a top-10 defense that also ranked top-5 against the run. Mizzou definitely struggled against the run this year. Wilks is known to run a 4-3 defense which will help in that aspect. Wilks also coached the 2019 Cleveland Browns defense and while they only ranked 20th in total defense, they were one of the better defensive fronts in the league and you have to take into account that the Browns had one of the worst offenses in the league to go with the defense which wasn't easy. Wilks also worked under defensive genius Ron Rivera in the NFL for several years before going his own route.

Unknown: Is he a good recruiter?

This is obviously the big question with the hire. Can Wilks recruit? Nobody knows. He hasn't coached college since 2005 and there's not enough evidence to make a judgement on him from back then and the overall landscape of college football has changed a lot since then. However, I don't think fans should be worried about Wilks' recruiting. He has plenty of NFL experience which appeals very much to recruits so he'll have plenty of street cred to throw around in the living room. Wilks also has taken a year off the game after the Browns underwent a staff overhaul and is recharged and ready to coach. Let's be honest too, was Ryan Walters ever known to be a good recruiter and Mizzou just signed a top-20 class with him including three four-star recruits on the defense with him on staff. Replace him with a guy that has coached some of the most notable names in the NFL as of right now like Josh Norman, Myles Garrett, Patrick Peterson, and Chandler Jones and I think Mizzou fans should feel good.

Known: He isn't using Mizzou as a stepping stone

Steve Wilks had some bad luck his last few years as an NFL assistant and was forced to bounce around from city to city until he decided he wanted to take some time off. He's been vocal about wanting longevity at his next spot and at this point he's 51 and he wants somewhere that he can settle down and truly make his next home. That would appear to be Missouri now. Many people wanted the defensive version of Drink, so a young up-and-comer to be the defensive coordinator but we all know they would just be using Mizzou as a stepping stone job and wouldn't have a long term outlook. Wilks is someone who is committed to Mizzou as long as Mizzou is committed to him.

Unknown: Can he adapt to the college game and be successful?

It's been over 15 years since Wilks coached in college. The college game is a lot different than the NFL and while it may be easier in a lot of ways, Wilks will have to keep in mind being a college coach is basically a year-round job at this point with nonstop recruiting along with game planning. I like to compare Wilks to Chiefs DC Steve Spagnuolo. Spagnuolo failed as a head coach and took a year off the game before returning as Chiefs DC where he took over one of the worst defenses of all time and won a Super Bowl. Wilks just took a year off and is hungry for success coming off a run in the NFL.

Known: Instant upgrade from Walters

Again, Wilks may not be a high-upside guy but he is someone who has a legitimate resume and is a surefire upgrade from Ryan Walters. Walters wasn't a defensive mastermind by any means before getting the defensive coordinator spot. Wilks will be able to apply a lot of his knowledge from the NFL to his college coaching which will provide players with even more insight. Walters' defense, while depleted, allowed nearly 150 points combined in the last three games for. That's a low bar for Wilks to clear.

Unknown: Will Wilks' scheme transition well for Mizzou?

Mizzou typically ran a 4-2-5 defense in the past while Wilks is a 4-3 guy. There's not a huge difference between the two sets as a 4-2-5 just adds an additional coverage guy but a 4-3 is more run-defense oriented which again, will help Mizzou as they struggled there, but it will be interesting to see how Wilks runs his defense given the fact Wilks will probably use players differently than they thought they were going to be used as Wilks implements his system.

Unknown: Who else will be on his staff?

We already saw Brick Haley let go after he coached the defensive line the last few years and my belief is Mizzou knew Wilks was the guy and Wilks didn't have Haley in is his plans which is understandable. The defensive line has underperformed so no surprise there. The question is how will Wilks fill out his staff? That will be vital to his success here is making sure he has the right group of guys. Will David Gibbs stick around after not being picked for defensive coordinator? It's possible. It will be interesting to see if any other changes are made.

Known: There's already familiarity on staff

It's always good to have familiarity with a new coach coming on staff. One of Mizzou's current defensive assistants, Charlie Harbison, was on Steve Wilks' staff in Arizona and Wilks got to know Drinkwitz when he was the coach at Appalachian State as Wilks is an App. State alumni. So, there's already some trust built and likely for good reason.

All in all, Steve Wilks initially seems like a good hire. There's nothing you can really say besides the Arizona ordeal that would convince me Wilks is a bad hire which we already went over. Honestly this seems like a hire that a blue blood program would typically make. Wilks is not a nobody or baby face in the coaching world. He has all the credentials in the world and the experience and success to really bring Mizzou to the next level.

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