CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Carolina Panthers have found a new head coach, coming to terms with Frank Reich to be the sixth head coach in franchise history, the team announced Thursday.
Reich will be the first Panthers head coach with an offensive background, a factor that appeared to weigh heavily in the team's decision.
The Panthers' coaching search also included talks with former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton. Interim coach Steve Wilks, who, like Reich, received a second interview and Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore had an interview with the team that stretched to multiple days this week.
Owner David Tepper ultimately chose the 61-year-old Reich over Wilks, who went 6-6 after Matt Rhule was fired following a 1-4 start.
Wilks, a fan favorite and sentimental choice has a defensive background. Seven of the nine candidates the Panthers vetted had offensive backgrounds as the team looked for a solution to an uncertain quarterback position and an offense that has been stagnant since quarterback Cam Newton began having shoulder issues halfway through the 2018 season.
Wigdor LLP, a New York City-based law firm that represents Wilks in his discrimination suit against the NFL for being fired after one season (2018) as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, responded to the decision to hire Reich on Twitter.
"We are shocked and disturbed that the incredible job Coach Wilks did as the interim coach, including bringing the team back into playoff contention and garnering the support of players and fans, that he was passed over for the head coach position by David Tepper.
"There is a legitimate race problem in the NFL and we can assure you that we will have more to say in the coming days.''
Wilks' only season as head coach was a disastrous one, as the Cardinals lost their first four games on the way to a 3-13 record.
Reich was fired earlier this season as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. In five years at the helm in Indianapolis, he went 40-33-1.
As a player, Reich is best known for being a backup quarterback who led the Buffalo Bills to what was at the time the biggest comeback in NFL history, leading the Bills back from a 32-point deficit to a 41-38 victory over the Houston Oilers in a 1992 wild-card game. That stood as the biggest comeback in NFL history until this past season when the Minnesota Vikings rallied from a 33-0 halftime deficit to a 39-36 victory over the Colts in Week 15.
In another connection to Carolina, Reich was the first quarterback to start for the Panthers franchise. Reich was 0-3 as the starting quarterback for Carolina before being replaced by first-round pick Kerry Collins. He still owns a home in Charlotte, where one of his daughters recently began working for the Panthers in the marketing department.
He went to four Super Bowls as a player with the Bills, where he was primarily a backup. As an assistant coach, he won a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles following the 2017 season in which he was the offensive coordinator.
In 2017, Reich helped Carson Wentz go 11-2 with MVP-caliber numbers before a season-ending injury, and Nick Foles become the Super Bowl MVP in a 41-33 victory against the New England Patriots.
He also worked with future Hall of Fame quarterback and former N.C. State star Philip Rivers with the then-San Diego Chargers and Colts.
Philadelphia Eagles coach Nick Sirianni, whose team is in the NFC Championship Game, got emotional earlier this season when talking about his respect for Reich.
"I'm emotional because I love Frank Reich,'' said Sirianni, who was the quarterbacks coach under then-Chargers offensive coordinator Reich in San Diego in 2014-15 and was Reich's offensive coordinator with the Colts from 2018-20. "He's one of the best damn football coaches I've ever been around. ... He's one of my biggest mentors.''
Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian, who helped Reich get into coaching after working with him as a player with the Panthers and Bills, said Reich will be a great fit at Carolina.
"He's a great person,'' said Polian, the first general manager of the Panthers. "He's a really good football coach. He's a great motivator. He's a guy that connects very, very well to players. He's tremendously organized. And he has a great football mind.''
Former NFL head coach and current NBC Sports NFL analyst Tony Dungy, who has worked with Reich, called it a "sensible hire.''
"David Tepper is really looking to take advantage of offensive expertise,'' he said. "Frank has got that. He's developed some great offenses and great quarterbacks.
"(Tepper) seems to be looking for that offensive energy, and Frank has that."
Dungy called the decision not to hire Wilks disappointing, but he understood why.
"It's disappointing because I thought Steve did an outstanding job,'' Dungy said. "But you have to understand owners. He's building a franchise. He's building it on what he's looking for.''
ESPN contributed to this report.