Less than two years after being hired by the Carolina Panthers, head coach Matt Rhule appears to be on the hot seat. What is the latest that Pro Football Network’s NFL Insider and Chief Draft Analyst Tony Pauline is hearing when it comes to potential head coaching moves in Carolina this offseason?
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Matt Rhule could be set for another season with the Carolina Panthers
According to Pauline, the current plan for Rhule is to give him one more season leading the Panthers.
“I’m told they’re going to give him at least one more year. There’s going to be a lot of pressure put on. I know that probably doesn’t sit well with some Panther fans if you see their most recent reactions. But Rhule’s going to get one more year. From what I’m told, there’s going to be a lot of pressure applied and when a lot of pressure is applied, what it usually means is they’ll clean house of the assistant coaches.”
That last statement from Pauline indicates we could see a flurry of activity in Carolina. We have already seen one coordinator depart in Joe Brady, but more coaches could be on their way out according to Pauline, but there is something bigger than the coaches the Panthers still need to address.
“We already saw Joe Brady get dumped about three weeks ago. I would expect more coaches to be fired at the end of the season. But as many people say, unless he gets his quarterback, it’s probably going to be the same thing in 2022 for the Panthers because obviously, the Sam Darnold trade has not panned out.”
It has been a tough two years for Rhule as the Panthers head coach. He took over a team that had gone 5-11 in 2019. Additionally, for all intents and purposes, they were missing a QB entering the 2020 season. Rhule’s first major move as head coach was to bring in LSU’s passing game coordinator Joe Brady. The young OC was widely credited for masterminding LSU’s National Championship-winning offense and the rise of Joe Burrow to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Rhule then started to work on his roster and made two huge decisions at the QB position. First, he released longtime Panthers QB Cam Newton, who had been injured in 2019. He followed that up by penning Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million contract. Bridgewater would start 15 games, throwing just 15 touchdowns to 11 interceptions as the Panthers limped to another 5-11 record.
Rhule’s QB carousel continued in 2021
Unconvinced by Bridgewater’s performance, the Panthers had a choice to make in the 2021 offseason. Holding the eighth overall pick, they had a chance to select one of the top QBs available in the draft. However, they instead decided to trade for Sam Darnold. The Panthers then committed to his fifth-year option. That essentially tied them to the young QB for at least two seasons. Meanwhile, Bridgewater was traded to the Broncos, with the Panthers taking on a large chunk of Bridgewater’s remaining contract.
To bring this full circle, with Darnold injured, the Panthers brought back Newton. Unfortunately, his return could not spark the offense. Heading into the final two weeks of the 2021 season, the Panthers are no closer to an answer at QB than when Rhule arrived. Darnold is now healthy, but he has yet to convince anyone he is the future of the franchise. Meanwhile, Newton has essentially become a gadget weapon for the team to use in specific situations.
Two seasons filled with promise ultimately turned to major headaches
Rhule’s first season brought mixed results. The Panthers’ defense went from being one of the worst in the league in terms of points allowed in 2019 to around a league-average unit in 2020. However, the offense regressed overall, and after winning three of their first five games, the Panthers managed just two more wins in the remaining 11 weeks.
The story of his second season is similar. The Panthers won their first three games. Unfortunately, they have since won just two out of the next 12 to sit at 5-10 entering Week 17. The offense again stagnated, and the Panthers decided to fire Brady on December 5. Fewer than two years into his tenure, Rhule is no closer to an answer at QB — and now he needs to find a new OC as well. Things are not looking pretty in Carolina.
Reclamation projects are not a surprise to the Panthers HC
One of the reasons Rhule was so highly sought after in 2020 was his record in college. At both Temple and Baylor, he took over struggling teams and turned them into a force to be reckoned with. In his first year at Temple, the team went 2-10. In Rhule’s second year, that record improved to 6-6 before they went 10-4 and 10-3 in his final two seasons.
Rhule then made the move to Baylor, another struggling team. In his first season, they limped to a 1-11 record. However, by Year 3, Rhule has turned them into an 11-3 team that went to the Big 12 Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl. Baylor was ranked from Week 6 onward — had they won the Big 12 Championship, they could have been in contention for the College Football Playoff.