The addition of Baker Mayfield was meant to mark a turning point in Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule’s career. Rather, it signaled his death.
The Panthers fired Rhule on Monday following a 1-4 start to the 2022 campaign, as the team had indicated.
Rhule will be replaced as the interim coach by 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.
General manager Scott Fitterer, who joined Carolina in January 2020 as Rhule’s replacement, is continuing to work there for the time being, Pelissero noted.
With considerable excitement, Rhule joined the team in 2020 and signed a seven-year, $62 million contract. Panthers owner David Tepper thought Rhule was the right person to accomplish the same in Carolina after the former Temple and Baylor coach swiftly established a reputation as a rescuer, quickly transforming both teams into winners. They got something very different.
During his two or more seasons in Carolina, Rhule only managed an 11-27 record, including back-to-back seasons with five wins. The reasons why he is the first Panthers head coach to have served less than three complete seasons are clear.
Since 2020, the Panthers’ offense has consistently ranked in the bottom five in terms of a number of categories, including points per game (28th), yards per game (29th), third-down % (31st), red-zone touchdown percentage (30th), and passer rating (30th). In 2021, amid again 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. However, as a result of their offensive inefficiency, Carolina consistently found itself in a difficult situation, going 1-27 when the Panthers let up 17 or more points throughout the Rhule era, including 25 straight defeats.
The instability at quarterback can be blamed for a large portion of those problems.
Teddy Bridgewater, a seasoned pro, handled the under center duties when Rhule first joined the Panthers, but his chances of success in the offense were limited by Christian McCaffrey’s inability to remain healthy and a lack 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 bring him back to the state. The brief 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 theme 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 former first-round pick just brought further disappointment to the Panthers. In Carolina’s offense, Mayfield was unable to establish a rhythm, consistently putting on unimpressive, stumbling performances characterized by swatted passes and missed targets. The Panthers’ final key error under Rhule—a pick-six—in Sunday’s loss to the 49ers put them at 1-4 and led to Rhule’s dismissal.
Even when Phil Snow’s defense performed admirably, it was never sufficient to save the Panthers from their offensive misery. Rhule lost his job because of the same mistakes.
Rhule is anticipated to draw a lot of interest from organizations looking to make a large hire because of his prior success at the collegiate 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, until such an offer is made.
Rhule’s new compensation will be used to offset the money still owed to him by the Panthers once he finds employment in the college ranks, which could happen as early as 2023, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
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