Panthers wrap up OTAs without their head coach

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Carolina Panthers wrapped up organized team activities on Thursday without their head coach.

Ron Rivera was out of town to attend his daughter’s college graduation – Courtney Rivera completed her degree at UCLA. Rivera will be back to work on Monday, but his absence did not interrupt the Panthers practice as secondary coach, and newly minted assistant head coach, Steve Wilks, took the helm.

Panthers assistant head coach Steve Wilks

“I tried to keep it as natural as possible,” Wilks said following Thursday’s practice. “It’s difficult not being able to be on the back end and really look at your players and try to critique them and coach them up in between plays.

“I was behind the offense and really tried to get a broad perspective of everything.”

Rivera has been the team’s head coach since 2011 and was the NFL’s coach of the year in 2013 when the Panthers went 12-4 to win the NFC South. Wilks was hired by the Panthers in 2012 after working with Rivera in San Diego, where Rivera was the defensive coordinator from 2008-10.

Wilks said the team kept everything “status quo” while Rivera was with his family for the special occasion.

“I was just trying to make sure I stayed on top of the tempo and execution,” said Wilks, who added he would like to “eventually” be a head coach but want to keep his focus on the “task at hand and right now that’s being the best secondary coach in the National Football League.”

Wilks added that having veterans like linebacker Thomas Davis – the NFL’s reigning man of the year – center Ryan Kalil and tight end Greg Olsen to show the rookies and other young players that things still move forward even when the head coach isn’t at practice.

“When you have the veteran leadership we have in the locker room, they understand the foundation and understand the expectations,” Wilks said. “The coaches do a great job of mandating that.”

About Ron Clements

Wisconsin native, former Marine, Summa Cum Laude graduate of East Carolina University and a working sports journalist since 1999.