Baylor coach Matt Rhule agreed Tuesday to a seven-year contract to become the Carolina Panthers‘ next coach, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The deal is worth $60 million and with incentives could be worth up to $70 million.
Rhule made $4.1 million this season at Baylor. The Panthers paid a $6 million buyout to hire their new head coach, league sources told Schefter.
The Panthers announced Rhule’s hiring on Tuesday but did not disclose the terms of his contract.
The move is a bold one by owner David Tepper, who, when previously explaining the job description, didn’t rule out hiring a college coach but made it clear he understood the “difficulty” in moving from college to the NFL. Rhule previously spent only one year in the NFL, in 2012 as an offensive line assistant for the New York Giants.
Rhule was scheduled to meet with the Giants on Tuesday, but he canceled that appointment after his interview with Tepper at Rhule’s home in Waco, Texas, on Monday.
“We met last night. Things happen very fast,” Rhule told ESPN Central Texas radio Tuesday. “In that conversation the things that are important to me are important to them. The decision was a really, really hard one. I feel like I left the program better than we found it.”
Tepper told the Panthers’ team website that there were multiple reasons he hired Rhule, down to Rhule having no taste in clothes, like Tepper himself.
“He dresses like [expletive] and sweats all over himself. He dresses like me, so I have to love the guy,” Tepper told Panthers.com with a laugh. “I was a short-order cook, he was a short-order cook. Nobody gave him anything, nobody gave me anything.
“He had to work hard for everything he got.”
Rhule’s passion for sports science also was a big factor.
“He’s impressive in player development and sports science — recovery techniques, intensity of training, integration with the strength program; stuff most NFL teams don’t come close to doing,” Tepper said. “He started talking about how he develops players and how he’s going to pick his staff and we all went from being in interview mode to recruiting mode. Everybody just knew. We switched without a word being said.”
Rhule has a reputation for turning programs around. In his third season at Temple, the Owls went 10-2 during the regular season. A year later, he led the program to its first conference championship since 1967.
Baylor went 11-3 this past season, two years after going 1-11 in Rhule’s first season for the Big 12 program. The program had been dealing with a sexual assault scandal that cost coach Art Briles his job in 2016.
“I came here for a purpose,” Rhule said. “I felt like I was called here for much more than just coming to coach football. I felt like I was here more than anything else to get the football program back in line with the university. I know we’ve done that. I felt like we had really done that after the first year.”
He added: “What I walked into was a disgrace. It was really, really bad. We fixed that. I’m at peace with it. I hope the players are, too.”
“We are grateful to Matt Rhule for all that he has done for Baylor Football and for the University over the last three years,” Baylor athletic director Mack B. Rhoades said in a statement. “Together, he and his staff have moved the program forward both on and off the field. While our hope was that Matt would be our coach for many years to come, we knew there was a possibility that the NFL would come calling.”
Rhule, 44, will inherit a Carolina team that finished 5-11 in 2019 and has had three losing seasons in the four years since going to the Super Bowl after the 2015 season.
He will replace Ron Rivera, who was fired with four games left in the 2019 season with the Panthers in a losing skid that would reach eight games. Rivera, who took over the team in 2011, is the winningest coach in Carolina history, with a record of 76-63-1.
He was hired by the Washington Redskins last week.
This is the first time in team history the Panthers have hired a coach from the collegiate level. They appeared again to be leaning toward a pro coach before Tepper met with Rhule.
“The football part of it for me is trying to go coach and compete at the highest level,” Rhule said of making the move to the pro level. “It’s really about nothing else. It’s not about money or fame. It’s about having a chance of everyone having the same rules, everyone having the same players, being at the highest level.”
Stephen A. unsure Rhule is the right hire for Panthers
Stephen A. Smith is uncertain of what Matt Rhule being hired as the Panthers’ head coach could mean for Cam Newton’s future.
Carolina interviewed former Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, who is headed to Dallas. The Panthers also interviewed Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and had been scheduled to meet with New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Tuesday, interim coach Perry Fewell on Wednesday and Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski on Thursday.
All except Fewell were offense-minded — as Tepper said he wanted.
One of Rhule’s biggest decisions will be deciding the future of quarterback Cam Newton, who is rehabbing from Lisfranc surgery on his left foot. There is no timetable on Newton’s return, and the 2015 NFL MVP is slated to become a free agent after the 2020 season.
Although Rhule was a linebacker at Penn State, he has become known for his offensive prowess. He’s a big believer in the RPO — run-pass option — that is big in the NFL and something the Panthers have run the past two seasons with Norv and Scott Turner guiding the offense.
Rhule, initially known for smashmouth football, has jokingly called the RPO his “deal with the devil.”
Rhule ultimately fit Tepper’s job description, “the right mix of old-school discipline and toughness with modern and innovative processes.”