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Mizzou makes Steve Wilks hire official

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More than two weeks after former defensive coordinator Ryan Walters left for the same position at Illinois, head coach Eli Drinkwitz has found a replacement. He went outside the box to do so.

PowerMizzou has confirmed through multiple sources that Missouri is hiring former NFL head and assistant coach Steve Wilks as its defensive coordinator. Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports first reported the hire.

On Thursday afternoon, Missouri made the hire official in a release.

"We are thrilled to welcome Steve Wilks and his family to Mizzou," Drinkwitz said in the release. "Steve has a strong reputation as a man of character and a leader of men. His experiences both as an NFL head coach and defensive coordinator are exactly what we need at Mizzou. I'm looking forward to Steve putting his fingerprints on our defense as we continue to elevate Mizzou Football to greater heights."

"I've had a reputation of building relationships everywhere I've been, from college to the NFL," Wilks said. "I pride myself on being a great teacher and communicator and having the ability to get the most out of my players. Players like Josh Norman, who developed from a fifth-round draft pick into a All-Pro selection, is just one example of someone who I was able to help develop. In college, you must develop players, and I believe I can bring that to Mizzou, along with being a great communicator and teacher."

Wilks most recently worked as the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns during the 2019 season. Prior to that, he spent one season as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, where he went 3-13 in 2018 before being fired. Wilks hasn't coached in the college ranks since 2005.

Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks is coming to Missouri as the team's defensive coordinator.
Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks is coming to Missouri as the team's defensive coordinator. (USA Today)

Wilks, a Charlotte, North Carolina native, played college football at Appalachian State from 1987-1991. Shortly thereafter, he started his coaching career at Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black college in Charlotte. He then moved on to Savannah State, where he spent two seasons as the defensive coordinator and one as head coach. Afterward, he spent one year each as an assistant at Illinois State, Appalachian State, East Tennessee State, Bowling Green, Notre Dame and Washington.

Wilks made the jump to the NFL in 2006 as defensive backs coach for the Chicago Bears, a role he held for three seasons. He then spent three years in the same role for the San Diego Chargers. In 2012, he got hired by his hometown team, the Carolina Panthers, where he worked under Ron Rivera, who had served as defensive coordinator of the Bears when Wilks got his NFL break. Wilks spent three seasons as the defensive backs coach, then got assistant head coach added to his title. In 2017, he replaced Sean McDermott as the Panthers' defensive coordinator. His unit ranked seventh in the league in total defense and third against the run.

The following offseason, the Cardinals hired Wilks as head coach to replace the recently-retired Bruce Arians. After the team won a league-worst three games, however, he was fired to make way for Kliff Kingsbury, who Arizona brought in to pair up with first overall draft pick Kyler Murray.

Wilks then went to Cleveland for one season, but after Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens was fired, he, too, was out of a job. Wilks didn't work during the 2020 season and told Joseph Person of the Athletic that he wanted his next position to come with some longevity.

Wilks also told Person that he planned to take a trip to Missouri this past season, as he had gotten to know Drinkwitz during his lone season as head coach of Appalachian State. Wilks also has another tie to the Tigers, as current Missouri defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison coached cornerbacks under him for the Cardinals.

"As I took time off to reflect over the past year, I wanted to find a good program with great people that was moving in the right direction, and without a doubt, Mizzou Football has all of that," Wilks said in Mizzou's official release. "I reached out to Coach Drinkwitz when he got the job at Appalachian State as an alum, and Coach Harbison is a good friend of mine who spoke volumes about the culture and people at Mizzou. Mizzou has things moving in a great direction and I wanted to be a part of that."

The full list of candidates for Missouri's defensive coordinator position was never revealed, but names tied to the job included current Tigers cornerbacks coach David Gibbs, Cleveland Browns defensive line coach Chris Kiffin, Alabama safeties coach Charles Kelly and former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. The next step for Wilks and Drinkwitz will be hiring a defensive line coach. On Wednesday, PowerMizzou reported that Missouri had parted ways with Brick Haley after he spent four years in the position.

This is an evolving story. Stay tuned to PowerMizzou for the latest.