CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers have found their next head coach in the college football ranks and are set to introduce him in Charlotte Wednesday.
Baylor head coach Matt Rhule has agreed to a deal to become the fifth permanent head coach of the Panthers, according to the team. He will be in Charlotte Wednesday to speak for the first time as head coach and to start working with the team to see what they can get done.
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ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Rhule agreed Tuesday to a seven-year contract worth $60 million, and with incentives, could be worth up to $70 million.
The deal makes Rhule the sixth-highest-paid coach in the NFL, according to Forbes. The five coaches ahead of him — New England’s Bill Belichick, Seattle’s Pete Carroll, Oakland’s Jon Gruden, New Orleans’ Sean Payton and Baltimore’s John Harbaugh — have all won Super Bowls.
Rhule made $4.1 million this season as Baylor’s coach. The Panthers paid Baylor a $6 million buyout to hire their new head coach, league sources told Schefter.
Just a few days ago, Rhule said he planned to stay put at Baylor University, but later said he couldn’t pass up an opportunity like this.
“Football is football,” Rhule said. “It’s about getting everyone moving in the same direction and getting the right people on the bus and just bearing with it until you get there.”
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Thought to be a favorite for the New York Giants head coach vacancy, Carolina beat the Giants in getting a signature on the line, as Rhule had an interview set up with New York for Tuesday afternoon.
According to NFL insider Ian Rappaport, the Panthers had their search narrowed down to two -- Josh McDaniels and Rhule -- but owner David Tepper spent Monday in Waco, Texas with Rhule and his family and heard enough.
Rather than risk Rhule getting on the plane, Rappaport said he made a deal.
“Well, listen, I’m, I’m so frickin’ happy,” Tepper said in the call with Rhule that sealed the deal.
“You have a new owner who is committed to doing things the best way. He’s a very much a process-oriented person,” Rhule told ESPN Central Texas radio on Tuesday. “That is really all I wanted. I wanted to go to a place that isn’t going to flail in the wind, that is going to be rooted and has a process they believe in. As we talked last night it was clear their process and my process could be one and the same.”
On Tuesday in Waco, Rhule talked about what helped him make the decision to come to the Panthers and the approach he will take when he gets to Charlotte.
“This was a unique opportunity,” Rhule said. “After meeting with Mr. Tepper and Marty Hurney, it seemed like a unique opportunity to go to the next level and put a process in place that’s going to win, but it was hard. It was hard just because I love these players. They’ve been texting me all day. The Panthers were first class along the way.”
Rhule, 44, will inherit a Carolina team that finished 5-11 this past season and has had three losing seasons in the past four years since going to the Super Bowl after the 2015 season.
He will replace Ron Rivera, who was fired with four games left in the 2019 season with the Panthers in a losing skid that would reach eight straight. Rivera, who took over the team in 2011, was the winningest coach in Carolina history, with a record of 76-63-1.
Rhule has a reputation for turning programs around.
At Baylor, Rhule led the Bears to an 11-3 season and a Big 12 Championship appearance. Prior to turning around a then 11-loss Baylor team the season before he arrived, Rhule spent four seasons as the head coach at Temple. Leading the Owls, he had back-to-back 10 wins seasons in 2015 and 2016, establishing himself as one of the top pro-style coaches in the collegiate ranks.
Rhule has one season of NFL experience, coming from his time as an assistant offensive line coach for the New York Giants in 2012. He took the Temple head coaching job from there.
This is the first time in team history the Panthers have hired a coach from the collegiate level. They appeared to be leaning toward a pro coach again before Tepper met with Rhule.
Carolina interviewed former Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, who is headed to Dallas. The Panthers also interviewed Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and had been scheduled to meet with New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Tuesday, interim coach Perry Fewell on Wednesday and Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin Stefanski on Thursday.
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One of Rhule’s biggest decisions will be deciding the future of quarterback Cam Newton, who is rehabbing from Lisfranc surgery. There is no timetable on Newton’s return, and the 2015 NFL MVP is slated to become a free agent after the 2020 season.
Rhule had received significant NFL interest the last three seasons, which, in part, led to a contract extension at Baylor that put him among the sport’s highest-paid coaches, Yahoo! reported.
Although Rhule was a linebacker at Penn State, he has become known for his offensive prowess. He’s a big believer in the RPO -- run-pass option -- that is big in the NFL and something the Panthers have run the past two seasons with Norv and Scott Turner guiding the offense.
The decision represents a bit of gamble for Tepper considering Rhule has only spent one season working in the NFL, that coming as an assistant offensive line coach for the Giants in 2012.
Shortly after Tepper fired Rivera, he seemed to downplay the possibility of hiring a college coach, saying, “I do understand the difficulty of the transition (from college) though. ... Anybody who’s been around football understands the difficulty of that transition.”
Tepper also said at the time he wanted a coach with an offensive background who would bring a “modern and innovative approach” to the game. But Tepper made the decision that Rhule was his guy.
Rhule was a walk-on linebacker at Penn State, winning three bowl games.
The son of a preacher, he has coached on both offense and defense during his coaching career, which began in 1998 at Albright College.
Tepper stressed in December it will take time to build the Panthers into a consistent winner — but he’s willing to be patient.
“If you don’t think it takes time to build something great, if you think something great gets built in one second, then that’s wrong,” he said. “You shouldn’t expect it, fans shouldn’t expect it. I’m not talking about one year, I’m talking of a standard that will be built and sustained, OK?"
Rhule now must hire a coaching staff.
He is close with Detroit Lions quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan, who could be a potential candidate as offensive coordinator. Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Snow could be a candidate to fill that same role with Carolina.
*ESPN contributed to this article; Yahoo Sports first reported that Rhule had agreed to take the Panthers job.
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