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What hiring a rebuilder in Matt Rhule means for…

6 min read
What hiring a rebuilder in Matt Rhule means for...

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper is a risk-taker. From a middle-class family in Pittsburgh, he’s now worth $12 billion after making his fortune in the hedge fund business.

That philosophy helps explain why Tepper is hiring Baylor coach Matt Rhule to be the team’s next head coach.

Rhule is risky because he has only one year of experience in the NFL — in 2012 as an offensive line assistant with the New York Giants. He’s risky because only three years ago he was the coach of a 1-11 team in his first season at Baylor. At the time, Baylor was rebuilding, having fired much of its previous staff on the heels of systemic failures to address sexual assault.

Tepper didn’t just take a risk on 44-year-old Rhule. He took an expensive one, giving him a seven-year deal with incentives that could be worth up to $70 million, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Plus, the Panthers are paying a $6 million buyout of Rhule’s contract with Baylor, league sources told Schefter.

Tepper spent an NFL-record $2.275 billion to purchase the Panthers, then invested a record $325 million to purchase a Major League Soccer team.

He has deep pockets, particularly when he believes in something.

Tepper saw something in Rhule during his Monday interview in Waco, Texas, and it’s something former Kansas State coach Bill Snyder saw during an 0-5 start to Baylor’s 2017 season. It was something that prompted Snyder to write a handwritten note after his team handed Baylor a 33-20 loss.

The note said: “I’ve seen weekly improvement from your program & appreciate your players for never giving up & fighting back. You are instilling an attitude that will bring success back to your program. Wishing you continued success & good fortune. –Bill.”

So Snyder wasn’t surprised at all when told Rhule would be the next coach of the Panthers, a team that ended the 2019 season on an eight-game losing streak, one that has had only one winning season in the past four, one that is three years removed from accusations of sexual and racial workplace misconduct by former owner Jerry Richardson.

“He’s fearless,” Snyder told of Rhule. “It doesn’t scare him a bit to step into that position. He likes a challenge, invites one.”

There are a lot of challenges ahead for the Panthers. Here are a few questions they face:

What does Rhule’s hiring mean for Cam Newton?

Let’s get right to the biggest offseason question for the Panthers. Tepper said after firing Ron Rivera on Dec. 3 that Newton, if he fully recovers from Lisfranc surgery, still could lead Carolina to a Super Bowl. Full recovery remains a big question even though early signs have been positive.

What’s significant here is the Rhule hiring seems like a step in a complete rebuild, similar to the rebuild Rhule did at Temple and Baylor. You don’t completely rebuild with a 30-year-old quarterback entering the last year of his contract, particularly one who has taken as many hits as Newton since 2011.

Rhule began his rebuild at Baylor by signing Charlie Brewer, a somewhat undersized (6-1, 188) pro-style quarterback who was efficient at the run-pass option (RPO) that has become prevalent in the NFL. That sounds more like 2019 third-round pick Will Grier and Kyle Allen, Newton’s backups last season.

And remember, the Panthers have the seventh pick of the draft, so Rhule has an opportunity to select a player right away to build around, as Rivera did in 2011 when he selected Newton with the top pick.

So signs point toward the end of the Newton era at Carolina.

Will Rhule be expected to win immediately?

Tepper hates to lose. He talked about waking up twice the night after an embarrassing home loss to Atlanta this past season. He fired Rivera a few weeks later, after an embarrassing home loss to Washington.

Tepper also is smart enough to know it takes time to build what he was used to when growing up as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

“You think people will wait five years for sustained excellence?” Tepper said after firing Rivera. “Listen, I’m not going to sit here and B.S. people. It’s a building process. You heard about Rome, right?”

That Rhule got a seven-year deal shows Tepper is willing to be patient. Rhule is patient, too. His favorite slogan while rebuilding Temple and Baylor was “trust the process.”

Why Rhule, why now?

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