Steve Wilks is headed from the desert to the Midwest.
Wilks was fired at the end of December after just one season at the helm of the Cardinals, who finished with the league’s worst record at 3-13. He’ll join Kitchens, who spent 11 seasons in Arizona but departed the desert for the Browns just as Wilks arrived in Glendale.
Wilks was a sought-after head coaching candidate just a year ago, but found himself out of a job after his overmatched Cardinals essentially failed to exit the starting gate in the first quarter of the season, rebounded after a change at offensive coordinator, but lost their final four games. Cardinals players vouched for him publicly, but it wasn’t enough to save his job.
He won’t be unemployed long, though, returning to a role in which he thrived in Carolina. In his lone season as defensive coordinator of the Panthers, Carolina finished tied for 10th in the NFL in points allowed per game at 20.4 and made the playoffs as a wild-card team with an 11-5 record. Without Wilks, Carolina slid to 19th in points allowed per game in 2018 (23.9) and fell apart after a hot start, finishing 7-9.
He’ll take over a talented defense that includes a pair of budding stars in Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, and very productive contributors in Damarious Randall, Larry Ogunjobi, Terrance Mitchell, Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey. The secondary, which was Wilks’ specialty in Carolina, is filled with potential thanks to the aforementioned Ward, Randall and Mitchell, as well as safeties Jabrill Peppers and Briean Boddy-Calhoun.
He’ll likely be pleased to join a team that was reshaped in one offseason by GM John Dorsey, who enters 2019 with a chance to fine-tune the roster as expectations for Cleveland have quickly leapt from medocrity to legitimate contention.