When Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule was asked about his future with the team after losing 37-15 to the 49ers on Sunday, he politely dodged the question, instead hoping to talk about the defeat. "I would never want to make this about me," he said. It actually turned out to be about him.
The Panthers fired Rhule on Monday after a 1-4 start, making him the first NFL head coach to be canned this season. He concludes two-plus seasons in Carolina with an 11-27 record. For context: Adam Gase, who was fired by the Jets at the end of the 2020 season, had a 9-23 record in two years at the helm. Rhule can take solace in getting two more wins than a guy who might have phoned it in more deliberately than any NFL coach in recent history, Urban Meyer excluded.
The expectations for this season's Panthers weren't high, but sheesh, this team is a mess. In August, rookie quarterback Matt Corral suffered a season-ending foot injury, and backup QB Sam Darnold had a high ankle sprain that put him on revocable IR, forcing the team to go with Baker Mayfield, who has been extremely underwhelming but, on the bright side, still has two legs. The defense has been fine, but the offense can't score, even with Christian McCaffrey healthy. With Rhule as head coach, basically any deficit was insurmountable. Here's a damning stat:
Panthers owner David Tepper gave this guy a seven-year, $62-million contract in January 2020, and to say it is hilarious in retrospect would be wrong, because it was hilarious at the time. Rhule's selling point was that he could turn around dogshit college programs and make them respectable. He couldn't replicate that in the NFL. He'll probably find a FBS job by next season.
Steve Wilks, who was fired rather abruptly by the Arizona Cardinals in 2018 after one 3-13 season, will serve as interim head coach. This past April, Wilks joined former Dolphins coach Brian Flores's lawsuit against the NFL, and alleged that the Cardinals used him as a "bridge coach" without giving him an actual chance to succeed. I suspect the situation in which he finds himself with the Panthers will not be new to him.