Already in this series we have looked at a number of current NFL offensive coordinators and former head coaches in order to examine how their various schemes might work in Carolina – and to some extent evaluate how effective they might be as potential head coaches.
However, for some of the candidates we already know to be in consideration, this simply isn’t possible. Either they are not currently working in the NFL, such as current Baylor Head Coach Matt Rhule, or they are currently working underneath an offensive head coach – AKA Eric Bieniemy working under Andy Reid – meaning that while they are potentially heavily involved in the design and execution of the offense, it is practically impossible to separate their work from the work of their current boss. So then, how could any team hire them and claim to have any idea what they might be like?
Well, for a start, what teams can do that really nobody else can do, is interview the candidates and have a honest and straightforward conversation about how they view the game, what they would want any team of theirs to be like, and just generally to get a sense for how effective they might be at both motivating players and managing and running an NFL franchise on a day-to-day basis. Things like who they would want on their coaching staff, what they would do differently to the schemes they are currently coaching and how they see that fitting with the Panthers’ current roster would all be useful in assessing their potential suitability for any NFL coaching vacancy.
However, we’re not going to get to do that. So what we can do is take a look at the offenses that they have either worked with or run to this point and rather than getting into the details of any particular play, take a look at things that they might have had a particular influence on as well as the general themes and concepts of the offense and how that might work in Carolina.
So, without further ado…
EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally published as a combination look at both Bieniemy and Rhule, but with news breaking that Rhule is finalizing a deal with the Panthers, here’s a singular look at the Panthers new Head Coach.
Matt Rhule, Head Coach Baylor
Matt Rhule is one of the most interesting coaching candidates that seem to have a serious shot of landing a position this offseason, as not only is one season spent as the assistant OL coach with the Giants his only NFL experience, but he is also one of the few coaches around who have experience coaching both sides of the ball after moving from defense to offense during his time at Temple. While in the NFL, the amount of time he would actually spend coaching or working with the defense would be minimal, but there is always some value to having a coach who is able to understand what is going on on both sides of the ball rather than trusting half of the game to an assistant coach.
While this is certainly a noteworthy factor to consider in Rhule’s potential coaching ability, for him to be a successful NFL coach, he will ultimately need to do so starting with the offense – while the scheme he was able to run at Baylor is hard to directly compare to what he might run in the NFL due to the limited time college coaches have to install their scheme compared to the NFL and the talent limitations most college offenses face in terms of quarterback play – which hopefully will not be the case in the NFL. However, it is worth looking at the general theme’s of Rhule’s offense to see what aspects might continue to be part of any offense he runs in the NFL and how that might work in Carolina.
Coaching tape is not readily available for college football games, and so we will not go into running plays in the detail above, but let’s look at this play – typical of a lot of what Baylor did in the run game under Rhule – and see what general trends are exemplified here:
The first thing to note here is the formation.
Baylor ran out of the pistol formation a lot, and while this isn’t something that is used a ton in the NFL, it has been used to great effect by the Ravens this year, and allows teams to run a lot of option runs where the running back is still able to hit the line at speed and also still allow for an effective hard play-action game. Crucially for Carolina in particular, by lining McCaffrey up centrally throughout, it makes it much harder to pick him up coming out from the backfield as a route runner. It is also worth noting that Baylor are looking to run the ball out of 11 personnel with three receivers on the field. This can be effective in forcing a defense to spread out laterally and provide more space in the center of the field for the blocking scheme to develop.
The other thing to note here is the use of motion, both in terms of the tight end coming across the field pre-snap and the pulling blocker to go along with him to create an effective double-pull. Baylor also used a reasonable amount of jet motion generally, both as a means of getting the ball in the hands of their playmakers – similar to what the Panthers have done at times under the Turners – but also as a means of stretching the defense even further in the run game to open up inside rushing lanes.
The other thing that stands out about Baylor’s offense on tape, this time in the passing game, is the way in which they have used their running backs as receivers out of the backfield. Most college offenses tend to either not use running backs in the passing game in any meaningful way, beyond just throwing them the odd screen, or do so by running them to the flat and using them as a checkdown or a blitz-beater. However, what Baylor did, and which is really promising for the likes of McCaffrey and Bonnafon, is that Rhule looked to use their running backs as genuine assets in the passing game by looking to isolate them underneath against man and asking their running backs to separate:
This is obviously just a snapshot at what Baylor did on offense – any team looking to hire Rhule will want to know how he would look to build upon what he was able to do from a schematic point of view. Baylor was obviously limited by the talent available to them in a way that most college teams are, but how he is able to incorporate more of an intermediate and deep passing game into the scheme he has run to this point will go a long way to determining how effective he might be at the NFL level.
It’s hard to know how effective Rhule would be at the NFL level based just on the tape, but this is the same thing that owners faced in the past with the likes of Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh and they both worked out pretty darn good. Hiring college coaches is always somewhat riskier than hiring those who are already working in the NFL, but sometimes those are risks worth taking, and that is something that the Panthers should have been able to probe in more detail during their interview with Rhule.