Mizzou hires longtime NFL coach Steve Wilks as defensive coordinator

New Mizzou defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has a quarter century of coaching experience, including a one-year stint as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Eliah Drinkwitz and the Missouri Tigers scooped up a big name to fill their vacant defensive coordinator role.

Mizzou announced Thursday that it has hired Steve Wilks to replace departed defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, who accepted the same role on Bret Bielema’s staff at Illinois. This marks Wilks’ return to the collegiate level after spending 14 seasons coaching in the NFL.

“We are thrilled to welcome Steve Wilks and his family to Mizzou,” Drinkwitz said. “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.”

Wilks, 51, most notably served as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2018, leading the team to a 3-13 record but overseeing a defense that allowed the fourth-fewest passing yards per game (210.0) in the NFL. He also worked as an assistant for the Chicago Bears (2006-08), San Diego Chargers (2009-11), Carolina Panthers (2012-17) and Cleveland Browns (2019), serving as a defensive coordinator for one year each in Carolina and Cleveland. His teams reached the playoffs six times, with the 2006 Bears and 2015 Panthers advancing to the Super Bowl.

Prior to his NFL coaching career, Wilks spent 11 seasons at the collegiate level, serving as an assistant at Johnson C. Smith (1995-96), Savannah State (1997-98), Illinois State (2000), Appalachian State (2001), East Tennessee State (2002), Bowling Green (2003), Notre Dame (2004) and Washington (2005). He also had a one-year stint as a head coach at Savannah State in 1999.

“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,” said Wilks, who did not coach in 2019. “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.

“I’ve had a reputation of building relationships everywhere I’ve been, from college to the NFL,” said Wilks. “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 an 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 will reunite with Mizzou defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison, who served as the cornerbacks coach on his Cardinals staff in 2018.