We’re 76 days away from the Panthers 2022 season opener, and since we currently don’t have a player wearing No. 76 on the roster (or a franchise legend who wore No. 76), I’m going to do something different and devote today’s countdown piece to head coach Matt Rhule.
The Panthers hired Rhule in Jan. 2020 after parting ways with Ron Rivera in Dec. 2019. Prior to signing a 7-year, $62 million deal to join the Panthers, Rhule was the head coach at Baylor University. The Bears went 1-11 in Rhule’s first year, but their fortunes quickly turned around with back-to-back winning seasons, including an 11-3 record and an appearance in the Big 12 Championship and Sugar Bowl in 2019. Before coaching at Baylor Rhule also saw success as the head coach at Temple, where he was the only coach in school history to have multiple 10-win seasons with the Owls*.
Things haven’t gone smoothly for Rhule in his first two years in Carolina. He enters Year 3 of his contract with a 10-23 record (5-11 in 2020, 5-12 in 2021) and is considered by many fans and analysts to be on one of the hottest seats in the NFL. However, if history is any indicator, this could be the year that Rhule starts to turn things around. In his first two years at Baylor he had an 8-17 record before leading the Bears to an 11-win season in his third year. The same is true for his tenure at Temple, where he went 8-16 in his first two seasons before winning 10 games each in Years 3 and 4.
The Panthers have had a solid free agency and draft, and presumably will have a healthy Christian McCaffrey back in an offense that desperately needs him. If the Panthers can get the quarterback situation sorted — which is admittedly a huge if — and if the team’s offseason moves pay off, there’s a chance we could see a return to the playoffs in 2022.
Panthers owner David Tepper has repeatedly said that Rhule has his support and this is a long-term rebuild project, but I have a feeling that his support will start to wither away if the team doesn’t start winning soon. Money shouldn’t be a factor in whether or not Rhule keeps his job (coaches’ salaries are not factored into the salary cap, and Tepper is currently the league’s richest owner), so if the team doesn’t make a significant leap in 2022 it could be time for Tepper to make a change.
What are you expecting from the Panthers this year? Do you think Rhule can turn things around and lead the Panthers back to the playoffs? Why or why not? Share your thoughts with us!
*- Temple has three 10-win seasons in their history: 1979, 2015 and 2016.