While it may have only been a few days ago that Matt Rhule stood on stage at the Atrium Health Dome, a stone’s throw from Bank of America Stadium, extolling the virtues of the process he’d be bringing to Carolina as well as the championship he predictably promised to the region, in the NFL, it feels like a lifetime.
The presumed MVP was upset by a team that found their starting quarterback in exchange for essentially a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft last offseason, the Browns hired the coach that they should have hired last year and Josh McDaniels went from the frontrunner for multiple jobs to not having to change business cards in a matter of hours. Andy Reid was Playoff Andy Reid for a quarter before Patrick Mahomes was Playoff Patrick Mahomes for the next three, All that while the Panthers coaching staff rumor mill continued to churn for the past week, occasionally expelling who the Panthers fifth head coach plans to hire to mold the team in not only his image, but into the team that David Tepper is trying to build around him.
Rhule has long leaned on his assistants – at Baylor, he demanded that his assistants’ bonds with the players were as strong as his, a coach who was consistently seen playing ping pong with his athletes on both sides of the ball. Before rebuilding the programs at both Temple and Baylor and sending 33 student-athletes to the NFL in his six years as a head coach, Rhule previously held positions overseeing the linebackers, special teams, defensive and offensive lines as well as the quarterbacks as he worked his way up the coaching ranks – so he understands the importance of a quality staff around him.
“I’ll have a diverse staff and a mixed staff,” Rhule said last week. “I have, I think, one of the best staffs in football at Baylor. A lot of my guys got to Baylor from the NFL, so a lot of guys have NFL experience. I think two things, there are a lot of guys that I know that are interested in coming here, and there are a lot of people that are really excited about this organization. They’re really excited about what Mr. Tepper and Marty have already started.”
“I’m getting calls from guys that say, ‘Hey, I want to be a part of that,’ because I think what you see here is you see alignment. You see an owner, you see a general manager and a head coach that aren’t forcing themselves to do things. They see things the same way and people understand that that’s how you win in this league.”
“When everyone’s on the same page, you’re going to be successful.”
Rhule has already sought advice from one NFL veteran as he’s begun to build his staff, reaching out to former boss Tom Coughlin, who was the head coach of the New York Giants the only season Rhule spent in the league as an assistant offensive line coach in 2012, to advise him in his coaching search, according to Mike Garafolo. The longtime NFL head coach was fired in December from his VP of Football Operations post by the Jaguars after the NFLPA informed players grievances against the Jaguars over mandating injured players to rehab and see doctors at the team facility during the offseason were upheld, disrupting plans for Coughlin to retire at the end of the 2019 season.
Rhule says he learned a lot about what kind of head coach he’s going to be from Coughlin, who had a 53.1% winning percentage over 20 years as an NFL head coach before transitioning upstairs with the Jaguars.
“Yeah, I think I took a lot,” Rhule said on the “Rapsheet and Friends” Podcast. “I think what was really key is that year was right before I was head coach. And so as I went to be head coach at Temple, I tried to apply all the things that I had learned from Tom. I thought coach Coughlin was amazing at his ability to get his message across to the entire team by visiting with one guy at a time. We had some personalities, some great players on that team — [Jason Pierre-Paul], Justin Tuck, Eli Manning, Ahmad Bradshaw.”
“I thought Tom did a great job of going to those guys and understanding that they were probably influencers on the team and making sure the message was getting out there.”
In case you missed anything over the weekend, here are the folks rumored to be helping Rhule spread his message in Carolina:
The hottest name in coaching over the past few months has been 30-year old Joe Brady, who helped LSU leap from 38th to first in scoring, from 84th to second in yards per play, and from 65th to second in passing efficiency this season while helping to transform quarterback Joe Burrow from undrafted to the potential #1 pick come the spring – all while LSU dominated the competition and aims to win the National Championship Monday night in New Orleans.
Brady shared playcalling duties with Steve Ensminger during the 2019 season.
Scott Roussell of FootballScoop.com said Friday that Rhule was interested in bringing in Brady to help helm the Panthers offense in 2020 and sources close to the situation confirmed that report to The Riot Report; while bringing in the Broyles Award winner, given annually to the top assistant coach in college football, would certainly be a coup, it would also make Brady the youngest offensive coordinator in the league if that was indeed his title.
While Brady reportedly signed a memorandum of agreement to remain with LSU for the next three years, there is language in the deal which would reportedly allow for a jump to the NFL should the opportunity arise – owner David Tepper invited fans last week to imagine what Rhule could do with unlimited resources….buying the hottest name in the country out of a contract at LSU would certainly qualify.
Not to mention that Brady shares an agent with Rhule, so the conversations that might have had to wait until after the big game in New Orleans may have already been ongoing – expect some clarity on that situation sooner rather than later this week.
While the coaching cupboard is currently pretty bare in Carolina – Scott Turner, Pete Hoener, Jim Hostler and John Matsko, in addition to head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion, have joined Ron Rivera in Washington – they are reportedly interested in hanging on to running backs coach Jake Peetz, who helped Christian McCaffrey to the third season in NFL history with both 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards. Reinforcements may be on the way as former Giants assistants Kevin M. Gilbride and Pat Flaherty both were on the staff with Rhule in 2012 and have been contacted for a place on the Panthers staff, according to Alex Marvez.
Flaherty is undoubtedly a Coughlin guy after spending over a decade as the offensive line coach under Coughlin in New York before spending time with the 49ers and Jaguars before being unexpectedly let go only four days into Dolphins training camp ahead of the 2019 season – Flaherty had struggled to implement the team’s new system, according to NFL Network.
The 40-year old Gilbride – not his father, who is the head coach of the XFL’s New York Guardians – is the tight ends coach for the Chicago Bears after working alongside Rhule as Giants’ wide receivers coach in 2012. He was the Giants tight ends coach from 2014-2017 before moving to Chicago to take the same job in 2018, so it would make sense that he would work with Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz and Greg Olsen, should he remain on the team in 2020.
Gilbride was fired by the Bears after one season.
Defensive/Special Teams Staff
After finishing 117th and 119th in yards per play among college programs the first two seasons under Rhule, they jumped to 20th last season – a lot of that improvement, including a scoring defense that jumped to 18th in 2019, was due to the tutelage of defensive coordinator Phil Snow, whom Rhule is expected to bring with him to his first NFL stop as defensive coordinator, per multiple reports.
Baylor led the Big 12 by a wide margin in turnovers with 30 takeaways, a number that tied for second nationally – Snow’s defense tied for sixth in the country with 46 sacks on the season; according to Joe Person of The Athletic, Rhule also is angling to hire Baylor linebackers coach Mike Siravo take Steve Russ’ place as LB coach in Carolina. The 43-year old Siravo, previously was the defensive backs coach at Boston College during Luke Kuechly’s tenure.
Former Colts defensive line coach Mike Phair is expected to helm the defensive line in Carolina – Phair and Snow coached together at Arizona State back in ’99-2000. Phair has 14 years of coaching experience across college and the pros, including a stint as co-defensive coordinator at the University of Illinois.
Under Phair’s leadership, the Colts defense was ranked in the top 10 against the run two seasons in a row – Carolina’s defense last season became the second since the AFL-NFL merger to allow over 30 rushing touchdowns and five yards a carry in the same season.
With Ben Jacobs reportedly joining Rivera in Washington, Rhule has interviewed Chase Blackburn multiple times, according to Person — Blackburn not only was on the Giants in 2012 while Rhule was on staff and Coughlin was the head coach, he’s been the special teams coordinator since being promoted from assistant special teams coach in January 2018.
While the head coach is who will gather the blame or the praise on Monday morning, it will be the staff around Rhule that ultimately determines his success – correct choices in January will set him up for success long into his career at Carolina.
“I’m going to be demanding, but I’m going to be demanding of myself first,” said Rhule last week. “I’m going to want accountability, but I want accountability of my staff and I first.”
“I look forward to working each and every day with you to make us the best organization in the National Football League – we’ve already started working. After I’m done [talking to the media], I’m going to take my suit off and get back to work.”
“I promise you, you’ll get my best.”