Once a hot $62 million hire, Matt Rhule fired during third season as Panthers coach

In January 2020, Matt Rhule was a hot name on the NFL coaching carousel. The New York Giants reportedly wanted to lure him from Baylor, but the Carolina Panthers came in and grabbed him first with a shocking seven-year, $62 million deal.

The Giants got lucky.

Rhule ended up being an expensive mistake for Panthers owner David Tepper. Before the third season of that deal was done, Rhule was fired. The Panthers announced the move on Monday morning. Rhule was 11-27 as Panthers coach. A listless 37-15 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday dropped the Panthers to 1-4 this season and was Rhule's final game as the team's coach. Rhule is the first coach fired this NFL season.

Carolina also fired defensive coordinator Phil Snow, according to NFL Network' Ian Rapoport.

Defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach Steve Wilks, who coached the Arizona Cardinals for one season, will be the team's interim coach.

Rhule was a very good college coach, building up Temple and then Baylor. That got him on the NFL radar, even though most college coaches fail in the pros. The Panthers made a big investment in him and got nothing out of it.

Rhule went 5-11 his first season. Then he went 5-12 his second season. He didn't seem guaranteed to return for a third season but was brought back, probably because he still had five years remaining on that huge contract. Rhule's third season began with more offensive problems and more losses.

As the losses piled up, it became clear that Tepper wasn't going to exercise endless patience with Rhule.

Rhule was stuck with poor quarterback play in all three of his seasons. He went from Teddy Bridgewater to Sam Darnold to Baker Mayfield and all of them struggled. The Panthers were 3-0 last season and felt confident, but then running back Christian McCaffrey got hurt and the team ended up losing 12 of its last 14 games.

Rhule could quickly find another college head-coaching job. He was good on that level and a school with an opening like Nebraska looking for a new head coach could consider Rhule considering his history of building up programs. It just seems likely Rhule's next shot won't be in the NFL.

The Panthers start their search without a horrible roster, but other than Tepper's checkbook there's not a lot to sell about the job. Since a magical 15-1 season in 2015 that ended in a loss at Super Bowl 50, there hasn't been a lot of success. Carolina hasn't made the postseason since 2017 and hasn't won a playoff game since that 2015 season.

The marriage of a college coach and the Panthers didn't work out. Now both sides will try to repair the damage.

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