Rhule is Gone: What Ultimately Led to the Former HC's Demise
Updated: Oct 20, 2022
Yesterday is a day that most Panthers fans will never forget. Head coach Matt Rhule was fired Monday morning, ending a miserable tenure that resulted in a win-loss record of 11-28 (28.2%). A hot-tempered David Tepper met with the local media in the afternoon, clearly frustrated with the team's noted lack of progress, and ultimately decided to move on from the college coach. So, where exactly did the Matt Rhule era go awry?
Teddy Bridgewater (2020)
PJ Walker (2020-present)
Sam Darnold (2021-present)
Cam Newton (2021)
Baker Mayfield (2022-present)
You will never establish sustained success at the professional level without a competent quarterback. Rhule didn't exactly start off on the right foot when he made the decision to release beloved franchise legend Cam Newton, a move that was done so in a disgraceful manner.
In 2020, it seemed that Teddy B could be the perfect mentor for someone like Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, Trevor Lawrence, or Trey Lance. In fact, most national media and fans believed that they would address football's most important position in that year's draft. Alas, it was not meant to be. Rhule fractured his relationship with Bridgewater beyond repair and Fitterer shipped him off to Denver the following offseason. Our #8 selection ended up being South Carolina's Jaycee Horn; while the initial reaction from fans was pretty terrible, it wasn't as badly received as the next move.
In the spring of 2021, Rhule (and Fitterer) set their sights on a reclamation project in the form of Sam Darnold. It was rumored at the time that Rhule was fond of the former Jet when interviewing for New York's head coaching job the previous season. Although Darnold showed occasional flashes during a stretch from Week 1 to Week 3, he failed, and failed miserably, to raise the level of those around him and himself most importantly. In hindsight, the move should not have been made when looking at his extended body of work with the Jets. After suffering an injury later in the season, the fanbase was low on morale so the front office reunited with Cam Newton, who provided some electric play in his first game against Arizona. However, that level of play was not exactly sustainable considering that he got signed midway through the season.
Heading into the 2022 season, upgrading the quarterback position was once again a must for Carolina's front office to address. Trading for Baker Mayfield signaled a step in the right direction but paired with terrible playcalling and overall sub-par play this season, it seems that another lost season is in the cards.
While this is an issue from the Rivera Era that bled into the Rhule Era, the Panthers consistently found themselves in critical situations with only one or no timeouts. For example, in the 2020 matchup against Kansas City, Rhule burned two timeouts on one drive because they were late getting their play calls. Part of that could be on the offensive coordinator but it all falls on the head coach in the end. We were in that game until the very end and could've used some extra time. There was an instance in which the team got a flag called on them after the Panthers took two timeouts back-to-back which is illegal.
You also might remember the 2022 season opener against the Browns during which they failed to utilize McCaffrey (ongoing issue) and also didn't ice the kicker Cade York right before he hit the game-winning field goal. These are obviously only a few situations but they are representative of the majority of Rhule's tenure in Carolina.
Control Freak/Micromanager Tendencies
Seeing as how most fans were aware of his complete control over the 53-man roster, it shouldn't be a surprise when we see an exodus of former Baylor and Temple players following the new head coaching hire. There are multiple players that had a leg up in the competition because of their familiarity with Rhule and/or the coaching staff. It seems that Fitterer was essentially a yes-man for Rhule in his first season as general manager but that's an article for another day.
Shortly after the firing was made official, the former Panthers' graphic designer Dan Goldfarb hinted at the idea that Rhule was controlling what was being posted on socials from his Twitter account below:
It's certainly interesting considering how the organization attempted to wipe Cam Newton's mark on this franchise away. Some might remember their post asking fans "Who is the GOAT Panther?" It included team legends like Steve Smith and Julius Peppers but left SuperCam off the list. It seems that erasing members of that magical 2015 run was a way that Rhule controlled the narrative and installed "The Brand."
Over the course of three offseasons as a head coach, the 44-year-old signed career backups Pat Elflein, Cameron Erving, Steven Weatherly, and Juston Burris with the intention of giving them starting spots at their respective positions. Needless to say, none of these players really worked out, save for maybe Elflein who has found his spot at center with a revamped offensive line in 2022.
After his first season starting in an extended role, Weatherly was a major disappointment and part of the reason why he didn't finish out his 2-year contract. Cam Erving honestly doesn't deserve to be on the team anymore (yet he is) after the damage he did to the Panthers' offense in 2021. Rhule had such a big ego that he thought he could coach up an uber-athletic 2015 1st round bust. As for Juston Burris, he's filled in for an injured Jeremy Chinn or Xavier Woods on multiple occasions, never more than the occasional role player.
There are so much more examples of his unpreparedness as a professional football coach but I'll leave readers with this stat: Matt Rhule went 0-7 when facing head coaches that were fired following the 2021 season. Yet, he kept his job until Week 5 of the 2022 season.
Let's not forget the root of the problem is owner David Tepper but Rhule certainly didn't help his case with a combination of pride, control issues, and overall mismanagement of the roster. Who do you feel is to blame for the Panthers' lack of success over the past three years? Let me know in the comments below.