The Carolina Panthers officially welcomed their new head coach to the Queen City on Wednesday.
Throughout the morning, the team had been tweeting photos and videos of Matt Rhule’s day -- from boarding a private plane with his family to meeting some of his new players in the locker room.
At a 2 p.m. scheduled news conference at the Panthers’ practice bubble, owner David Tepper introduced Rhule as the team’s fifth permanent head coach, and shared the moment when he realized Rhule was the coach he wanted.
"We planned to have this (search) go a little bit longer, but then we went to Waco, Texas,“ he said. "Halfway through the interview process, I went into recruiter mode because I knew we found something special.”
Rhule was then introduced -- as the builder, innovator, motivator and new head coach.
“Thank you for trusting me with your football franchise,” Rhule said to Tepper. “I will work every day to make you proud of this organization.”
The new coach then thanked his family.
“I would not be able to be here if it was not for my wife, family, mom and dad,” Rhule said.
The former Baylor University head coach turned around two college programs and will now be tasked to do the same at the NFL level -- a challenge Rhule thinks he can handle.
His passion was apparent during his opening remarks.
“Football is the greatest game there is,” he said from the podium. “Men of all ages, shapes and sizes come together to form a team. I will work tirelessly to bring you a championship. That’s what this region deserves. Everything has to be our best every single day. No days are throwaways."
Rhule’s genuine energy was palpable. In talking about his journey, it was easy to sense humility, the desire to be the best and doing things the right way.
“Life is not just about setting goals but the process. The daily grind you have to go through,” he said. “Keep Pounding is not just a slogan, it is a way of life. I want a team of players and coaches that want to be the best and will work relentlessly every day. I want us to have a great team that endures forever."
After his remarks, coach Rhule fielded some questions from the media. The first thing asked was the future of quarterback Cam Newton.
“I haven’t had a chance to talk about long-term vision," Rhule answered. “I talked to Cam yesterday, and I have the utmost respect for him and what he’s done. I loved the way he talked to me -- about the future, not the past.”
Rhule did not specifically say what was next for the QB.
The new head coach of the Panthers told Channel 9 in a 1-on-1 conversation earlier that he’s going to do more listening than talking as he meets the players for the first time.
He was then asked how he was able to transform two college programs into winners.
“We found the guys who fit,” he said. “They could have been freshmen or seniors. The players knew I wasn’t going to talk bad about them when we faced adversity. The coaches are there to help players be their best. What you see here is alignment. An owner, GM and head coach who see things the same way. That’s how you win in the NFL."
It was clear the new head coach was happy to be in Charlotte, and ready to get to work.
“When the Panthers offered me seven years, there was no doubt we were going to do this together,” Rhule said. "I just want to be a small part of what we are going to do together. We are excited to raise our kids here and to give back to this community.”
>> Scroll below to follow coach Rhule’s big day.
One of the biggest decisions new Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule will have to make is choosing a quarterback — a move that could determine the direction of his tenure with the club and the franchise's future for years to come.
Rhule said Wednesday he spoke to Cam Newton after accepting the Panthers job, but added that it's way too early to make any decisions about the roster before sitting down and talking at length with general manager Marty Hurney.
“I did talk to Cam (on Tuesday) and I have the utmost respect for him and what he has done," Rhule said Wednesday during an introductory news conference at the team's new practice bubble. “And I love the way he talked to me quite honestly. He didn't want to talk about the past, he wanted to talk about the future."
But Rhule isn't quite ready to talk about the future just yet, "I would much rather talk to those guys and kind of get a feel for not just Cam, but all of the players on the roster, and really have a good process in place moving forward.”
Hurney, who kept his job after coach Ron Rivera was fired, said he has not discussed the quarterback situation with Rhule.
“That is something we will have to sit down and talk about,” Hurney said. "We have a guy who was the MVP of the NFL. And Matt knows that. This is all going to be a process. He is going to have to get to know these guys and get to know the roster. It's a process."
Much like Newton's playing status has been, which adds another element of uncertainty to the decision-making process.
The 31-year-old Newton missed 14 games last season with a Lisfranc foot injury and finished the season on injured reserve. Newton was the league's MVP in 2015, but has struggled with shoulder and foot injuries since and has lost his last eight starts for Carolina.
The team is waiting to see how Newton responds from foot surgery before making a decision on his future.
The Panthers have not given a timetable for his return.
Newton is entering the final year of his contract and is scheduled to cost $21.1 million under the 2020 salary cap. However, the team could free up $19.1 million in cap space if they trade or release him this offseason.
The other options on the roster are Kyle Allen and Will Grier.
Allen was 5-7 in 12 starts last season in place of Newton but committed 23 turnovers — 16 coming on interceptions and seven on fumbles. Allen was eventually benched after losing six straight games and his confidence seemed to deteriorate.
Grier, a third-round pick in 2019 out of West Virginia, started the final two games of the regular season but struggled. The Panthers lost those games by a combined score of 80-16, and Grier was intercepted four times and failed to throw a touchdown pass.
There will be other options if Rhule decides to go in a different direction altogether.
The Panthers have the seventh overall pick in this year's NFL draft.
Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Dak Prescott, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota and Case Keenum highlight an unusually attractive class of free agent quarterbacks, although it's possible some of them may re-sign before they hit the free agent market.
Rhule hasn't had much time to dig into the situation.
He officially agreed to become the Panthers coach on Tuesday after owner David Tepper and Hurney flew to Waco, Texas to meet with him on Monday.
Hurney said it only took about 90 minutes before he switched from interview mode to recruiting mode.
“After talking with him I was like, ‘oh man, we have to convince this guy that Carolina is the right place for him,'" Hurney said.
Then came the Panthers' aggressive seven-year contract offer worth $62.5 million with incentive for even more, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team has not released details of the contract.
The move was made to prevent Rhule from going to his hometown of New York and interviewing with the Giants.
Rhule said the seven-year commitment and the bond he felt with Tepper and Hurney were enough to enough to convince him to forego the Giants interview. Rhule said he never spoke with anyone at the Giants, although his agent did.
“There's no doubt that we share a common vision,” Rhule said after meeting with Tepper and Hurney. “There is no doubt that we believe in doing things the right way.”
Rhule said midway through his interview with the Panthers he spoke to his wife Julie in the other room and she told him, “What are you waiting for? You need to go work for them!”
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