Sports

With Payton rumor looming, Panthers’ Rhule faces big season


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Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule has gone 10-23 in his first two seasons in Charlotte.

Knikouyeh@charlotteobserver.com

Matt Rhule has gone undefeated over the previous 4 months.

And for many returning NFL head coaches, the month of May means you survived the yearly purge, your fan base is happy about your draft picks and questions on your job safety are off the desk till at the least October.

Not so with Rhule, nevertheless, who has gone 10-23 in his first two seasons after the Panthers plucked him away from Baylor with the concept that he may work his collegiate rebuilding magic in Charlotte.

Rhule confronted these job-related questions with equanimity Friday at a press convention scheduled to speak a few rookie minicamp, helped little doubt by proprietor David Tepper’s current declaration: “I believe in Matt and he has my full support.”

Still, a Front Office Sports report this week that the Panthers have been “eyeing” former NFL head coach Sean Payton ought to it not work out once more with Rhule this yr didn’t present the perfect May day for Rhule.

“Do I want stories like that out there?” Rhule mentioned. “Probably not. But at the same time I also know a lot of people lose their edge when they write great stories about you. So I’m going to continue this grind, and work, and see where things fall.”

Rhule additionally mentioned that Tepper had known as him earlier than the report surfaced — the Panthers had been alerted to it as a result of they have been requested to remark. The proprietor had advised Rhule there was “nothing to it,” the coach mentioned.

“I know David Tepper well enough to believe that he wouldn’t be talking to another coach right now,” Rhule mentioned.

I consider that’s true. Remember, Tepper fired Ron Rivera with 4 video games remaining within the 2019 season so he may conduct his first teaching search with out Rivera, whom he deeply revered, nonetheless within the constructing.

But I additionally know, from my very own reporting, that Tepper did consider carefully about whether or not Rhule was the appropriate man to proceed to steer the Panthers after a seven-game shedding streak to finish the 2021 season dropped Carolina from 5-5 to 5-12.

Tepper stored Rhule, a supply near the proprietor mentioned, as a result of the proprietor was satisfied Rhule by no means “lost” the gamers final yr.

That sustained effort was the deciding consider maintaining Rhule for a 3rd season. But marked enchancment is anticipated this yr if there may be to be a fourth.

Tepper reiterated his “Rome wasn’t built in a day” line lately.

As the proprietor mentioned in late April in his first information convention in 16 months: “I’ve said five years (for a successful rebuild) — five years from the time Coach Rhule was (hired) here. And maybe it will be six years. I don’t know.”

Rhule signed a seven-year, $62-million contract with Carolina earlier than the 2020 season, a deal of almost unprecedented size for a school coach with no NFL head teaching expertise.

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From left, Panthers proprietor David Tepper, head coach Matt Rhule and former staff president Tom Glick change laughs earlier than Rhule was launched as Carolina’s new head coach on Jan. 8, 2020. Joshua Komer The Charlotte Observer

Said Rhule of Tepper Friday: “When he came to my house two-and-a-half years ago, he told me that this was a five-year rebuild. … And he convinced me then to come be a partner with him and build it with him. We’re not where we want to be. And I don’t think it’s going to take five years. I don’t want it to take five years. But those are the words that he said to me. And so I’m looking forward to taking a step this year. I like our football team. I like the way that we’re working. I like this draft.”

Incoming veteran quarterback?

Does Rhule additionally like his quarterback room? He mentioned he does, but it surely’s clearly not sufficient to ensure that the Panthers received’t add a veteran to the combination of incumbent starter Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker and rookie Matt Corral.

“I don’t think we could say ‘No’ to a veteran at this point,” Rhule mentioned. Baker Mayfield, Jimmy Garoppolo and Nick Foles are all potentialities.

Quarterback play has been the No. 1 downside with the Rhule period at Carolina. Until that will get fastened, the remainder of it doesn’t actually matter. Teddy Bridgewater, Darnold, Cam Newton 2.0 — none of them have labored out.

Maybe Corral will find yourself changing into a pleasing third-round shock for the Panthers, and the gamble is smart. But it’s exhausting to foresee that taking place instantly. The transition from spread-offense QB in faculty to professional QB is just like the distinction between first-year Algebra and Advanced Calculus. Not many can grasp it totally in Year 1.

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Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule, left, shares amusing with Sam Darnold in 2021. Darnold is the Panthers’ incumbent starter for 2022, however including one other veteran QB stays a chance. Khadejeh Nikouyeh Knikouyeh@charlotteobserver.com

As for Rhule himself, he’s nonetheless received an opportunity. But he additionally is aware of one other five-win season — the Panthers have now had three of them in a row, the primary one below Rivera — would put all of it in critical jeopardy. In that method, the coach’s tenuous job safety is very like that of his gamers, as he identified Friday in an analogy I’ve by no means heard an NFL coach use earlier than.

“When things happen,” Rhule mentioned, “when the stories come out with unnamed sources … I say how lucky am I that I’m going to have a chance to overcome this adversity and be a better coach, person and father because of this. I always hope that it brings a better connection with our players, because our players live a life where they never know what’s going to happen with them. And I have a much greater feeling for that anxiety that they go through.”

It was the form of refreshing honesty that Rhule typically braids into information conferences. He’s probably the most likable NFL head coaches you’ll ever meet. He’s simply not successful.

Examining the Payton rumor

To discover the Payton situation for a second:

Payton, 58, retired in January from the Saints, whereas leaving the door open for a future NFL return. As Front Office Sports identified, the “mini-retirement” he’s about to take for a TV job within the 2022 season is one which many NFL head coaches do between jobs (Jon Gruden did it, as did Bruce Arians, as did George Seifert and plenty of others).

The Dallas Cowboys are mentioned to be excited by Payton, and a variety of different groups can be, too, if he got here again available on the market. The Saints maintain his rights by way of the 2024 season, although, which suggests excessive draft selections would possible be wanted to compensate New Orleans earlier than it will comply with “trade” Payton away.

Traditionally, groups are much less prepared to permit a coach to re-enter the identical division. This would certainly be the case for a New Orleans staff that will don’t have any intention of letting the Panthers go them within the NFC South.

In different phrases, the entire “Payton to Carolina” rumor is enjoyable for the phase of the Panther fan base that’s sick of Rhule, and that’s a notable piece of the pie. We all heard the “Fire Rhule” chants in December at Bank of America Stadium, the place the Panthers are 6-21 over their final 27 video games.

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A Carolina Panthers fan reveals his Christmas want on Dec. 26, 2021, because the Panthers fell 32-6 to Tampa Bay within the midst of a season-ending, seven-game shedding streak. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

But it’s additionally far-fetched.

I wrote in December that giving Rhule one other season was the appropriate factor to do, and I nonetheless consider that.

This is the yr the advance should occur, although. The offensive line has been overhauled in a powerful method, as has the teaching workers. Christian McCaffrey — at the least briefly — is again. The Panther protection stays ok to win.

That’s the factor, although. It’s time to win.

No, Rome wasn’t inbuilt a day, however I guess you might see the Colosseum rising within the distance every day and know that it was going to be exceptional. There must be clear indicators this yr that Rhule’s beloved course of is working.

I feel the Panthers must go at the least 8-9 for Rhule to be again for a fourth yr. That form of season would imply Payton would find yourself employed some place else and Rhule can be again in 2023.

But one other five-win season, or worse? That’s going to be an excessive amount of to bear.

Tepper has been affected person. But he’s not that affected person.

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for The Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, together with 4 in regards to the Carolina Panthers. Fowler has received the Thomas Wolfe award for excellent newspaper writing and has earned 18 nationwide APSE awards. He hosted The Observer’s 8-part podcast “Carruth,” which Sports Illustrated named 2018’s “Podcast of the Year.”
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