We need to talk about what’s next for recently fired Carolina Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule.

Nobody feels sorry for Matt Rhule right now. His contractual buyout is in the $40 million dollar range, and despite an absolutely putrid record of 11-27, wasting an awesome defense in 2021 due to a bottom three offense, making three different quarterbacks look washed, and emptying Bank of America Stadium of any trace of Panthers fans over the last two weeks, he’s still somehow the hottest name on the college coaching market heading into next season!

Yes Matt Rhule turned around Temple, and yes Matt Rhule brought Baylor back to life. It was those efforts that led owner David Tepper to personally recruit Rhule to the Carolina Panthers like Rhule was the LeBron James of football coaches. Maybe that goes to show that David Tepper didn’t understand the nature and history of his own team. 

Matt Rhule is a proven commodity as a re-builder. The Carolina Panthers didn’t need a rebuild. The Panthers, historically, have been a bounce-back franchise. Despite two Super Bowl runs in the last 20 years, and two other NFC championship appearances in the franchise’s short history, the Carolina Panthers have never had back-to-back winning seasons. Not even in the run of making the playoffs four times in five years under Ron Rivera. 

But what have the Carolina Panthers traditionally always had? Stability at quarterback. Whether it was Kerry Collins, Steve Beurlein, Jake Delhomme, or Cam Newton, for 90% of this franchise’s history, they’ve had the right piece under center that allowed them to tinker everywhere else until they put together a team capable of a playoff run. 

The Panthers worst years have always come when it was obvious that they didn’t have someone that should be starting in the NFL under center. In fact, you can thank Chris Weinke going 1-14 in 2001 for the Panthers ending up with Julius Peppers, and you can thank the combination of Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore going 1-14 in 2010 for the Panthers ending up with Cam Newton. 

Matt Rhule didn’t walk into a situation where the Carolina Panthers needed a complete overhaul, they just needed a competent quarterback to take over for the physically spent Cam Newton. And even if they did need a complete overhaul, they never completely went in that direction. 

Instead of looking to chase a QB in the draft and start from scratch, they’ve been content to see if they can make reclamation projects out of castoffs three years in a row. They still have the same primary running back and primary receiver as they did when Matt Rhule took over. Guys that Matt Rhule inherited on defense like Donte Jackson, Shaq Thompson and Brian Burns are all still the heart of what they do defensively. 

He didn’t even make a symbolic change at longsnapper.

A lot of people are going to ignore his time in Carolina and only look to the collegiate experience, but I think Matt Rhule’s time in Carolina is exactly why he’s a higher risk than most other pundits. 

People are quick to point at Steve Spurrier or Nick Saban or Chip Kelly’s time in the NFL as a reason that the pro experience need not be taken into account, but people forget that those three, while they might not have been a perfect fit, looked competent in the NFL in a way that Matt Rhule never did. 

But let’s say everyone is right, and that a trip back to college football will show the world why an NFL team was willing to drop $70 million on Rhule in the first place. Where does he fit best?

We don’t know if Matt Rhule is capable of sustained success, and it seems we do know that Matt Rhule might not be the best coach for a team that is just one or two pieces away from being competitive. The only thing we know is that Matt Rhule can create something from nothing. So which college programs will give him “nothing” to work with?

Well, there are two in the Pac-12, that are potentially future members of a conference where he’s already coached, that might offer him the blank slate he needs to work his magic. 

Arizona State currently has about 70 players on scholarship, and probably 10 of those are former walk-ons, while another 6-7 are quarterbacks that don’t play. Beyond that, they’re facing sanctions from their time under Herm Edwards, and rumors that someone on staff was leaking information to quicken Herm’s firing means that in order to take the job, everyone down to the stadium window washers would probably have to be replaced to make a high profile coach comfortable with taking that job. It’s as close to a true rebuild as you can get. 

And what about Colorado? They’re in the opposite boat, with too many kids on scholarship. But under NCAA rules, a new coach is allowed to make cuts in order to reshape the roster to their liking. Colorado’s best years came from recruiting connections established throughout Texas, and Matt Rhule in only 2.5 years removed from having to recruit the state in order to resurrect Baylor. Colorado might not have the financial considerations that you’d need to typically attract a top-level coach, but Matt Rhule is sitting on more unearned cash right now than a January 2021 Gamestop investor, so that shouldn’t be an issue. 

Some people might say that Nebraska needs a rebuild, but if I’m Matt Rhule I’m looking at Lincoln, Nebraska like it’s the Charlotte of the Plains. Nebraska seems to have plenty of talent, but unless you attract a quarterback that is either transcendent as either a runner or passer, you’re going to fall into the same trap that Mike Riley and Scott Frost did. And the one thing that Nebraska can’t afford Matt Rhule in the way that Arizona State or Colorado can is lowered expectations. If the Huskers aren’t on the verge of 10 wins by 2024, we’re going to be right back here talking about the next reclamation project for Matt Rhule.

But he won’t have the same shine he has right now, and instead of Tempe or Boulder, we might be talking about Troy, Alabama or Reno, Nevada. 

Let that sink in.

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