The Rhule Era: Exploring the Process of the Masterbuilder
*This is one of my research assignments; a blog post about something you're interested in. Figured I would share. :)*
When I first heard about Ron Rivera’s firing, I was devastated. After all, Rivera was all I’d known as a Panthers fan. However, I quickly came to the realization that it was time for a change. Our team was aging, and there needed to be a changing of the guard in Carolina. Following that move, future Hall of Fame linebacker Luke Kuechly announced his surprise retirement at age 29, along with the team letting beloved tight end Greg Olsen make his way to free agency.
Even with all the turmoil, fans were still optimistic about the team’s prospects for the following year. We still had Cam, our QB1, who injected energy and excitement into the franchise since his debut in 2011. Meanwhile, Newton was recovering from shoulder surgery, after a shot to the arm one cold night in Pittsburgh. The team had just hired a young head coach in Matt Rhule, who was known as being a team-builder, having successful stints at both Temple and Baylor, before turning his sights to Carolina.
Generally, Rhule would tear down a team, and then build up his own roster, full of players who trusted “The Process.” Though Matt Rhule raved about Cam Newton’s leadership and playmaking ability, things were just not meant to be. On March 24, 2020, the 31-year-old fan-favorite Cam Newton was let go by the organization that wanted to go in a new direction. After key departures in the offseason, along with the draft looming, Matt Rhule and Co. will find that a winning culture may be a process.
"You want to go get the right people, the right staff, the right support staff, and the right players. We run conditioning on Wednesday's and our players get up there and they run, and then the coaches run. I think if you walked out there and you saw Claire Burke, who is the assistant to the General Manager, if you saw Donnie Toner who has been here forever and they're all out there running, you would say 'wow, they've got a great group of people (Callihan).'" Needless to say, Rhule really wants to implement the saying that I won’t make you do anything that I’m not willing to do. When the Panthers ran Training Camp Live, we got a glimpse of that when Rhule tackled a practice dummy with the defensive line position group. In one of his press conferences, he mentioned that all the coaches run sprints along with the players sometimes to get their blood flowing.
In order to carry out his process, the former college coach brought many of his Temple and Baylor assistants, including Phil Snow, the defensive coordinator who has followed him to each of his head coaching gigs. “You hear me talking about process," Rhule said of his rebuilding foundation. “I learned that from Phil (Newton)." The 64-year-old certainly isn’t a young guru, but his wisdom and philosophy have been of great help to the 44-year-old head coach. Snow will help develop the defense while former LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady will work with CMC and the offense.
Although a staff is very valuable to the franchise, they have to acquire new players during the offseason, whether that be from free agency or through the draft. Then-general manager Hurney picked key pieces such as star receiver Robby Anderson and safety Juston Burris. In the draft, they addressed defense, defense, and more defense. Derrick Brown and Jeremy Chinn were the headliners, two young, high-upside, and hardworking players who were ready to contribute any way that they could. With cornerstone pieces in place such as defensive end Brian Burns, running back Christian McCaffrey, and DJ Moore, the front office looked to infuse the roster with more youth and high energy.
Last but not least, the “master-builder” has to instill the mentality and mindset into his players and staff to mold them into how he envisions his team looking, playing, and approaching each day. He talks about wanting the Panthers to play his brand of football. Rhule said this in his introductory press conference: “I want to define people and an organization that's tough. Keep Pounding isn't just a slogan, it's a way of life. When things are hard or when things are good, how you feel or what's happening can't affect your effort each and every day. I wanted to come be a part of an organization that believes that. I know that I've found that. We're going to have a tough, hard-working competitive team. Tough to me means that each and every day, no matter how we feel, no matter what the circumstances are, we're going to come to work and we're going to do our job and get it done. I want to have a hard-working team(“Full transcript”).” From what is described above, I think that we Panther fans can be excited for the team that Matt Rhule is bringing us in due time.
With the NFL becoming a what have you done for me now? type of business, many people don’t have patience with new regimes. They are expected to win right away with limited resources, including in this case. However, in some cases, the fanbases encourage coaches to tank, or purposefully lose, in order to secure their favorite guy. While many fans wanted the organization to not succeed for selfish reasons, like picking Trevor Lawrence No. 1 overall, Matt Rhule made it very clear that he will have no part in that mindset. This is what he said after outside noise made it clear that they preferred the team to lose what they described as “meaningless games”: “I think teams that have historically tried to lose to improve their draft pick, hasn't really worked out for many teams. Winning franchises win. They win at everything. It's hard for me to even think that way because it's just something my mind doesn't work that way. We're here to win (“What They Said”).” Matt Rhule is here to bring “sustained excellence” to the Carolinas. Trust the process y’all!
Panther fans, what do you think winning culture means? Do you agree with Matt Rhule? If not, why? Leave your thoughts below.