Panthers Fire Matt Rhule; Steve Wilks Named Interim HC

In a move which comes as little surprise at this point, the Panthers have fired head coach Matt Rhule, the team announced on Monday. Defensive passing game coordinator/secondary coach Steve Wilks will replace him on an interim basis.

Talk of Rhule being on the hot seat began at the onset of the 2022 season, his third with the team. It was at that point that he was able to make significant strides at both Temple and Baylor, leading to expectations that he would be able to do the same along a similar timeline in the NFL. Instead, the team has started the season 1-4, dropping his overall coaching record to 11-27. 

Offensive struggles have been at the heart of Carolina’s performances under Rhule. The team has ranked no higher than 24th in the league in scoring during his tenure, something which some hoped would turn around this season with the acquisition of quarterback Baker Mayfield and a return to health from running back Christian McCaffrey. The unit has underperformed in 2022, however.

That led to increased speculation that a mid-season firing could take place. Owner David Tepper had insisted on remaining patient with the 47-year-old, though, as recently as late September. Two losses since have been marked by further underwhelming performances, and reports of tension between Rhule and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. The fact that Mayfield played part of yesterday’s game against the 49ers on an injured left foot did little to help his or Rhule’s job security.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweets that Rhule had the option to leave Carolina in favor of a return to the college ranks, but chose to stay. Now, he will likely be among the top candidates to fill a number of openings which currently exist at high-profile programs. ESPN’s Adam Schefter adds (via Twitter) that Rhule is still owed more than $40MM on the seven-year, $62MM contract he signed upon arrival in Charlotte.

With Rhule gone, the Panthers will move forward with Wilks heading the staff. A presence on Carolina’s sidelines from 2012-17, the 53-year-old spent the following season as head coach of the Cardinals. His tenure there lasted only one year, however, after the team went 3-13. The nature of his dismissal from Arizona led to Wilks joining Brian Flores’ ongoing racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL and several clubs.

He spent 2019 as the Browns’ defensive coordinator, then one year removed from coaching. In 2021, Wilks was the DC at Missouri, before returning to the Panthers for this campaign. He will now have the remainder of the 2022 season to try and orchestrate a turnaround, while auditioning for the full-time role of head coach. On that point, Rapoport adds that Wilks will be given “serious consideration” for a permanent posting (video link).

The performance of Wilks and the rest of the team will now be worth watching over the coming months. Regardless of their ability to turn the season around, the Rhule era has officially ended after less than three seasons.

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