Panthers head coach Matt Rhule’s job status might be the most polarizing storylines in both the city of Charlotte sports and in the NFL as the days go by and the owner of the team remains silent. Albert Breer of Monday Morning Quarterback said in answer a mailbag question on the site yesterday that nothing can be officially ruled out here because of what happened with Jeffrey Lurie and Doug Pederson a year ago where Pederson was let go more than a week after the conclusion of the season. On Thursday morning, Rhule took to the airwaves of WFNZ and talked to both the Mac Attack and the Wilson & Norfleet show to discuss his job status heading into year three and much, much more.
Both shows asked the question that everyone is wondering about right now: what is you job status here with the Carolina Panthers and does it hinge on the hiring of a new coordinator? Rhule explained to both shows through all of the conversations that he has had with Tepper, he does not get the notion that that is in fact the case, and that instead there is a focus toward the future and fixing the problems that the team is experiencing. “Every conversation I’ve had with David Tepper has always been long term vision,” Rhule told the Mac Attack boys. “We know what we need to do. We know we need to build the backbone of the team, you know, control the line of scrimmage. We know we need to solidify ourselves at quarterback . We need to get the staff where we want it. It’s all been that.”
In terms of the staff, Rhule told Nick Wilson of the Wilson & Norfleet show earlier today that the decisions to move on from members of the staff earlier this week were of his doing, no one else’s. “Those were Matt Rhule decisions. Those were all good men. Those guys all worked really hard, but those were things that I felt like we really needed to do to move forward and to have the team that we need to have.” Those moves included the move earlier in the season to part ways with offensive coordinator Joe Brady leading to the promotion of running backs coach Jeff Nixon into the offensive coordinator duties. Wilson asked Rhule earlier today if Nixon is a candidate for the full-time coordinator job. “Jeff did a great job for us. Jeff is a great coach. I think our focus right now is external as we’re in this phase of it. I would never rule anything out, but right now my whole focus is on external candidates and talking to as many people as possible.” When it comes to those external candidates, he laid out earlier in the morning what exactly he is looking for in those candidates. “I’ve wanted somebody who is adaptable to the personnel that we have. I want an offensive coordinator that has similar beliefs as us: we need to be able to run the football, we need to be able to win situational football (third down and in the red zone), we need to be able to protect the ball and protect the people who carry the ball like the quarterback. I’m looking at somebody who sees the game in terms of ‘hey, who’s my quarterback, I’m gonna make him successful, who do I have, I have D.J., I have Robby, I have CMC, I have Ian, I have Tommy. I want to utilize those guys and make sure that when people come to play us they are defending all of those guys. I’d love it to be someone that got some experience. Until you’ve been a head coach or until you’ve been an OC and you’ve stood in the fire and made decisions and people saying ‘hey, why did you do that?’ I’d love to have someone that has that experience.”
A key element of the offense that whoever the hire is at offensive coordinator will have to get figured out is the quarterback position and Wilson asked Rhule earlier today whether Sam Darnold was definitely the starter for next year under center. “I can’t say that. I still see got things from Sam that he does. I thought the last game was one of his better games. I think the better pieces that we continue to put around him in terms of developing our young offensive line and then the guys that we have, putting them in positions to be successful and the system that we put in place. A lot of things have to align for a quarterback to play well, whether it’s the quarterbacks we have here or whether it’s someone from the outside, we recognize that you have to win in the NFL with really good quarterback play.”
In that same vain, Rhule was asked by both shows about the future of Cam Newton, a guy that he talked glowingly about and expressed his gratefulness to have him in both instances. “I believe that Cam can still play, should still play and he brings a lot to a team. He’s brought a lot to me as a coach, he’s brought a lot to me personally. I met with Cam on Tuesday and we both agreed let’s take some time and let’s get together with Scott (Fitterer), Cam and his people and let’s all come together and do this the right way and have like a face-to-face like ‘here’s how we see it, how do you see it.’ I can’t say enough, though, about who he is and what he can do.”
One of the big things that has come under fire recently has been the ‘process’ that Rhule has mentioned a lot in the past couple of weeks. “When I say that, I’m just trying to say that we have a goal we want to get to, we want to build a Super Bowl champion. I think when we took over in 2019 it was the end of a great run and it was a time for turnover, it was a time to rebuild the roster. There had to just be a plan in place. When I say the word ‘process’, I just mean just methodically trying to attack that plan, at first with Marty and now with Scott, and this is a player’s league so you have to revamp the roster. There were some good pieces left over, but we lost a lot of great pieces.” In terms of how this season affects the process, Rhule talked on Wilson & Norfleet about how the process is always changing. “I think the process always changes. You sit there and say ‘hey, we don’t want to turn the ball over so we’re gonna do these things’, but then you have a year like this where you have five or six three-turnover games. Obviously what we did didn’t work to prevent turnovers, so we go back and we look at the process for that like ‘who do we have playing, what’s our offensive system, how are we coaching it, what are we doing when it does happen’ and then you try to change it.”
It’s no secret that fans are frustrated and that was never more evident than last Wednesday night in Spectrum Center when fans started a “Fire Rhule” chant in the concourse behind the set of the Hornets Postgame show on Bally Sports South, those following similar chants during that Hornets game as well as the team home finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a week and a half earlier. He said that while he may not have heard them directly, he is aware of the backlash that he has been receiving from the fans. “My response to our kids is always ‘hey, if you want the good, you have to take the bad'”, he told Mac Attack this morning. “There was a lot of backlash a lot of backlash against me at Baylor. I was the guys from New York City that moved to Texas to replace a guy that had just almost taken them to the national championship games. All I did was take his program and go 1-11 the first year, so I was not real popular there. All I learned to do was say ‘people are mad that we’re losing so what should I do?’ I shouldn’t cry about it, I should just get us to point where we’re winning.” That seems to be a point that Rhule wants to get the Panthers to badly next season.
Rhule parted his stop with Wilson with a message to the fans that are frustrated about the direction that the team is going and that was that he is with them and wants to win just as much as they do. “I just want them to know that I’m frustrated with them. I live this day in and day out, just like they do. I hope people never take the positive things that I say as ‘everything’s okay’. It’s not okay. All I can say is that we are going to continue to work as hard as we can.”
For the full interviews from both show, listen to the combined interviews from this morning in the podcast link below and also be sure to check out the interview from The Clubhouse with Kyle Bailey with Panthers GM Scott Fitterer from earlier today on the website.
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