The Reasons For Rhule’s Struggles In Carolina, And The Events Leading To His Firing

The addition of Baker Mayfield was meant to be a turning point in Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule’s career. Instead, it signaled his termination. The Panthers sacked Rhule on Monday after a 1-4 start to the 2022 campaign, as the club had indicated. This came after bad performances from the Panthers had forced sportsbooks to provide low NFL Odds for them consistently.

Panthers owner David Tepper spoke to reporters on Monday about why he decided to part ways with Rhule after less than three seasons. “We need to get through this hurdle.” Rhule will be replaced by the interim coach Steve Wilks, who is also the secondary coach for the Panthers’ defensive passing game. According to NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero, on Monday, Wilks, who served as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals for one season in 2018, is anticipated to be given considerable consideration for the Panthers’ full-time position. 

Along with Rhule, Phil Snow, the defensive coordinator, and Ed Foley, the special team’s assistant coach, were also sacked. After becoming the head coach to the professionals following stops at Temple and Baylor, Snow joined the franchise in 2020 along with Rhule. Al Holcomb, the defensive assistant head coach for the Panthers, is anticipated to become Carolina’s next DC, according to NFL Network Insiders Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo. In Arizona, Holcomb served as Wilks’ defensive coordinator. 

General manager Scott Fitterer, who joined Carolina in January 2020 after Rhule and was recruited there, is still employed, unlike Rhule and Snow. Tepper did say that the power dynamics between the next coach and Fitterer should be “more balanced” than they were under Rhule. 

With considerable excitement, Rhule joined the team in 2020 and signed a seven-year, $62 million deal. Tepper thought Rhule was the one to do the same feat at Carolina, much like the former Temple and Baylor coach did when he rapidly transformed both teams into champions. They got something very different. During his two or more seasons at Carolina, Rhule only managed an 11-27 record, including back-to-back seasons with five wins. The reasons he is the only Panthers head coach to have served less than three complete seasons are clear. 

Since 2020, the Panthers’ offense has consistently been in the bottom five in a number of categories, including points per game (28th), yards per game (29th), third-down % (31st), red-zone touchdown percentage (30th), and quarterback rating (30th), with regularly low NFL Lines for them. In 2021, during another offensively unsatisfactory season, Rhule fired former prodigy offensive coordinator Joe Brady as a scapegoat, but the Panthers’ woes persisted regardless of the coordinator.

The Panthers fared much better on defense, with sportsbooks giving them solid Under/Overs in Vegas NFL Odds. However, as a result of their offensive inefficiency, Carolina often found itself in a difficult situation, going 1-27 when the Panthers let up 17 or more points throughout the Rhule era, including 25 consecutive defeats. 

The instability at quarterback may be blamed for many of those problems. 

Teddy Bridgewater, a seasoned pro, handled the responsibilities when Rhule first joined the Panthers, but his prospects of success in the offense were limited by Christian McCaffrey’s struggle to remain healthy and a dearth of playmakers elsewhere. 

In 2021, Carolina turned its focus to Sam Darnold, who also struggled, particularly after suffering injuries that kept him from playing and caused the Panthers to approach Cam Newton’s door with an offer to lure him back to the state. The short euphoria caused by Newton’s comeback had passed by the time Darnold entered the game, and Carolina stumbled to a 5-12 finish, primarily without McCaffrey. This pattern persisted in 2022, a season that was intended to be better, thanks to the addition of Mayfield to the squad and the return of McCaffrey to full health. 

However, the first-round selection just brought further misery to the Panthers. In Carolina’s offense, Mayfield was unable to establish a rhythm, often putting on unimpressive, stumbling performances characterized by swatted throws and missed targets. The Panthers’ last key error under Rhule—a pick-six—in Sunday’s defeat to the 49ers put them at 1-4 and led to Rhule’s dismissal.

Rhule is anticipated to get a lot of attention from teams looking to make large hiring because of his prior success at the college level. The Panthers will be responsible for paying the remaining $40 million of his seven-year deal, which he completed in less than three years unless such an offer is made.