CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers are completing a contract to hire Baylor’s Matt Rhule as their coach, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday on condition of anonymity because the deal is not done. The Panthers have not spoken publicly about the coaching search.
The person says Panthers owner David Tepper visited Rhule at his home in Waco, Texas, and decided he wanted the Baylor coach to succeed Ron Rivera, who was fired with four games remaining in the season. Rivera was the winningest coach in franchise history and was twice named AP NFL Coach of the Year.
The 44-year-old Rhule was scheduled to visit with the New York Giants this week and was believed to be a strong candidate there.
Rhule was named Baylor’s coach on Dec. 6, 2016 after a scandal hit the program. He went 1-11 his first season there in 2017, then improved to 7-6 in 2018. The Bears went 11-1 in the regular season this past season, although they lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship and Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
Rhule was a combined 19-20 in his three seasons at Baylor. This marks the first time the Panthers have gone with a college coach as their head coach. Previous coaches were Dom Capers, George Seifert, John Fox and Rivera. Perry Fewell was the interim coach the final four games this season, going 0-4.
Before coaching at Baylor, Rhule worked at Temple and revived the Owls. After a 2-11 season his first year, he wound up leading the school to back-to-back 10-win seasons.
Rhule began his college coaching career in 1998 and his only experience in the NFL is having spent one season as an assistant offensive line coach with the Giants in 2012.
When Tepper met with a small group of reporters on Dec. 3, 2019 after making the decision to move on from Rivera, he seemed to downplay the idea of hiring a college coach.
“I do understand the difficulty of the transition (from college) though,” Tepper said at the time. “That doesn’t mean I’m closing it off, but you’ve got to understand, anybody who’s been around football understands the difficulty of that transition.”
Tepper, who bought the team in 2018 for an NFL record $2.3 billion, made the decision to fire Rivera with four games remaining because he wanted to get a head start on the coaching search. He also didn’t feel it was right to conduct a coaching search behind Rivera’s back.
Tepper made clear he wanted to hire a offensive coach with a “modern and innovative” process.
The team interviewed former Packers coach Mike McCarthy and had planned to talk to Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. But the decision was made to take Rhule.
“In the modern NFL, I think there is a preference for offensive coordinators. … The NFL has made rules to lean to the offense,” Tepper said last month. “That’s why you’re having more people go that way. I think you have a lot of people on that side accepting the more modern processes. ”
Tepper stressed in December it will take time to build the Panthers into a consistent winner — but he’s willing to be patient.
“If you don’t think it takes time to build something great, if you think something great gets built in one second, then that’s wrong,” he said. “You shouldn’t expect it, fans shouldn’t expect it. I’m not talking about one year, I’m talking of a standard that will be built and sustained, OK?”
“Built and sustained. If the fans are expecting something to be miraculous next year, listen, it could happen. Maybe, you know, it’s that good, but you can’t count on that. There has to be a degree of patience to build sustained excellence.”