Nebraska Hires Matt Rhule as Next Head Coach

Nebraska Hires Matt Rhule as Next Head Coach
Matt Rhule, fired by the Carolina Panthers just two months ago, is officially the new head coach for the University of Nebraska, the team announced. Rhule, who became a prominent coach at the collegiate ranks before being hired by Carolina, finalized the deal with Cornhuskers’ officials to replace interim head coach Mickey Joseph, who took […]

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In My Words: Matt Rhule On What’s Next For Him After Being Fired By Panthers

Matt Rhule was head coach of the Carolina Panthers from 2020 through the fifth game of the 2022 season. The Panthers fired him on Oct. 10, after the team fell to 1-4. Rhule’s record with Carolina was 11-27. Before joining the Panthers, he was head coach at Temple (2013-16) and Baylor (2017-19), leading turnarounds at both programs. This is the second of two columns in which Rhule reflects on his experience as a first-time NFL head coach and the next chapter of his career.

 

One of my key sayings has always been, “What’s next?”

If you ever talk to any player who has played for me and say, “What’s next?” he’ll know exactly what you mean, because that’s all I would ever say to guys. “Aw, you fell down … You got hurt … You got beat up in the game … You had a bad game … You had a good game … What’s next? No one cares what happened. What’s next?”

Now, I’m asking myself that question. For the time being, the answer is I’m having a chance to go back and say to myself, “Hey, what am I going to do differently the next time? What am I going to do the same the next time?” Those things are important.

I got fired at around 10:35 in the morning. I did the team meeting at 11. I was home by 11:30 and at around 11:35, I got the first call from a search firm about a college job. It’s great to know someone’s interested in hiring you, but you also can’t always jump at the first opportunity.

I want to make sure I take the right job. I want to make sure I go to a place that wants to do it the way that I want to do it. When you hire me, you’re getting a distinct way of doing things. We’re going to try to build a team, and it might take a little while to get to where we want to go, but it’s going to be sustained. It’s going to be built on the right things.

During my time in Carolina, we built the second-best defense in the league (in yards allowed) in just two years. And I’m so proud through that adversity and all of the scrutiny when you listened to those players talk in the locker room after the games, you listened to Christian McCaffrey, you listened to Shaq Thompson, they stood up for what we were doing, and they stood up for me; just as a man.

I don’t care if I’m coaching high school, college or pro. It comes down to relationships. It comes down to player development. It comes down to players trusting you. It comes down to you telling a player the truth and then them trusting you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Wherever I go next, it has to be a team that believes in what I’m doing. And then, I have to do it better than I did last time. I don’t shirk that responsibility. I have to do it better than I did in Carolina. I’m going to do the same things; just do it better.

That could be tomorrow. That could be three years from now. I don’t know when or what it will be. I just know this: I’ll be involved with football.

As you get away from it, you think about all the people you’ve met, all the people that have impacted you, all the players that I had a chance to coach. After that, I think about the advice I’ve been given, the coaches I look up to and respect, like Tom Coughlin, who I worked for when I was an assistant offensive line coach with the Giants; Bill Belichick; Andy Reid, who I’ve always been close with since the time when I was at Temple, and he was nearby with the Eagles, and Pete Carroll.

All those guys went through what I’m going through now at some point in their careers. They were all NFL head coaches who were fired. But you look back and say, “What will I do differently next time, and hope my story is the same as those other coaches and my greatest success happens after this adversity?”

If I could go back, things that maybe I saw were wrong or things I just disagreed with probably along the way I would probably have addressed them quicker. You get into the NFL, you’re working with a GM – and I had two great GMs during my time in Carolina in Scott Fitterer and Marty Hurney, two of the classiest guys you could ever work with – but you’re also working with the personnel staff. You’re working with all these different departments. You’re getting pulled in all these directions. And if you see something wrong on offense, if you see something wrong on special teams, you need to get it fixed immediately. Maybe sometimes I just didn’t get that done quickly enough.

I think you have to just go in there as a head coach and have elite confidence that you know what’s right and not listen to the external voices, not listen to too much banter and just say, “This is the way we’re going to get it done.”

Being a head coach in the NFL or being a head coach in college, it’s a weird setup in that every year you go through all these experiences, and you have all of this knowledge poured into you, both what you’ve done right and what you’ve done wrong. And every year you’re a head coach you actually get better and better and better because you can sit down and say, “I learned this,” or, “That was bad; I’ve got to change that.”

But the way it works most times is after a couple of years they say, “Hey, you know what? We’re going to move on.” So, an organization – a college, a pro team – they’re basically paying you to become a better coach. They’re paying you to go out there and have these experiences. You learn how to manage the clock better, you learn how to work with players better, you learn how to evaluate better, you learn how to put together X’s and O’s better.

You go through this whole process, and I think that’s why so many guys have success their second time. That’s, ultimately, how I want to answer, “What’s next?”

As told to Vic Carucci

Analysis

Process of Firing, Hiring an NFL Head Coach From a GM Who Did It

On Monday, the Panthers fired Matt Rhule, making Carolina the first team to part ways with its head coach this season. Once a coach is dismissed, what exactly does the process look like for finding his replacement? The 33rd Team’s Rick Spielman, who helped lead that process during his time as GM of the Minnesota Vikings, broke down the job of firing a coach and finding a successor.

The Lead-up to a Firing

It all starts with the ownership group, and observing what’s happening on Sundays and how the team is playing. As general manager, you’re having weekly discussions with ownership about the direction of the team, but you’re also wondering on the outside if the owner thinks it’s time for a change.

Now, Matt Rhule’s firing happened earlier in the season than most do, but as the year goes on, you’re trying to get a picture of how your team is trending, and you’re trying to do that as a three-year snapshot. Did the team make progress under the coach from Year 1 to Year 2, and from Year 2 to 3?

Listening to Panthers owner David Tepper’s press conference on Monday and his observations from his team’s 37-15 loss to San Francisco, he thought there wasn’t the energy, there wasn’t the effort out there to compete. When it gets to that point, then you start asking if the players are tuning out the coach or his messaging. Do they believe the coach and his game plan are putting them in a position to win?

There’s a lot of discussion going on, but when you see how Carolina performed against the 49ers, it seems like they’re in a downward spiral right now, and it’s been like that for years. I don’t know if Mr. Tepper saw the progress he needed to.

So when you make this kind of move in the middle of the season, you have to believe it can potentially turn things around right away. Because there’s a new energy and voice at the front of the room, there usually is a spark in the players that helps them play well in their next game.

A Personal Side

The other thing you worry about and are discussing internally is, if you make the change, how is that affecting everything outside of the game for your head coach, and your other coaches? I’ve been through a few situations where all of a sudden it’s 7 p.m., you’re walking past coaches’ offices, and the doors are shut because they may be calling around to get other jobs lined up if they’re not retained by the new head coach.

You also have a relationship with your head coach, so I personally considered the effect it would have on his family — how will it affect them, his kids who have to go to school the next day? How does it affect his wife? There’s so much on the personal side of it that gets taken out of the decision.

But we all know when we sign up and work in this league, you’re signing up for that, too. And eventually, everybody gets fired. Very rarely does someone go a certain amount of years and not get fired. Even the Hall of Fame coaches have been fired. It’s part of the business. But it’s also a real crappy part of the business.

After the Decision, What Happens Next?

Before you officially make the decision to fire your head coach, you had better make sure there’s someone on staff capable of stepping in and being the interim coach. Sometimes a coach isn’t fired midseason because there’s nobody on the staff to replace him, or nobody who’s qualified to do so. In Carolina’s case, Steve Wilks has had head-coaching experience (in 2018 with the Cardinals) and has been around for a long time, so they had a plan in place that if they made the move, Steve would get an opportunity to be the interim guy.

When you start the process of finding a new coach, you have to be very organized and put together an internal search committee. That has to involve the owner, and usually involves the GM, the president of the organization and people in football operations. And it’s important now to include the diversity and inclusion officer in this, as well as anybody else in the organization who you think can contribute.

But you also have to look at your outside resources. The NFL has done a lot of research on up-and-coming candidates that they share with teams. The Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation, which champions diversity in the NFL, is a great resource to identify under-the-radar candidates. Ownership will often hire a search committee or bring in outside consultants, like the Bears did last year; Bill Polian help with the search that resulted in the hiring of Matt Eberflus.

Sometimes you even bring in distinguished alumni to help. Before Detroit hired Dan Campbell, they brought in my brother, Chris, who spent eight years with the Lions as a player and the last three as an executive. They also consulted with Barry Sanders. They had iconic figures in the organization be a part of that process.

And when you put that all together, you’d better have a very specific plan on the roles and responsibilities of everyone on the committee.

What are you Looking For?

After the committee is formed, you need to identify the criteria you are looking for in your next head coach. Does he have an offensive or a defensive background? Does he have to be a former play-caller or have head-coaching experience? Does he have to be a former player? What are his responsibilities going to be? Will he oversee personnel, the coaching staff, or even the entire football operations?

His role has to be clearly defined. You have to have a clear vision of what you want in your next head coach.

Teams searching have to be patient, and open their eyes not just to the obvious candidates, but have a wide-open search. You have to talk about different categories of coaches you’re looking at, and where you place those candidates into specific categories. And you have to really trust and finish out your process. You can’t change things because you hear everything on the outside about a hot candidate who you may lose to another organization. There are plenty of good options, and that’s why it’s important to finish your process to make the best decision.

Two examples of teams that did a great job following that philosophy are Philadelphia and Miami. When Philadelphia hired Nick Sirianni, that was a guy who came out of the blue, wasn’t one of the top candidates that came out that year. And you look at Miami hiring Mike McDaniel, who wasn’t a coach on the interview circuit with all the teams. But those two have done phenomenal jobs early in their head-coaching careers. Both those organizations did a great job opening their searches, looking at all different aspects, taking their time, and making sure they made the right decision that was best for the organization.

Types of Candidates

Going through the interview process and collecting candidates’ names, you have to have a blank slate and no predetermined notions, because you may end up eliminating a young up-and-coming candidate who ends up getting his opportunity and doing very well, a la Andy Reid, a future Hall of Famer. This process is like looking at a draft board: You have different categories of guys for each position, and you put names under each. We did it the same way, but with different types of coaches. Here are some examples:

  • Former head coaches, now out of football: Sean Payton, Jason Garrett
  • Former head coaches, now coordinators, doing well: Dan Quinn, Leslie Frazier, Raheem Morris
  • Young, up-and-coming offensive coordinators without head coach experience: Eric Bieniemy, Byron Leftwich, Kellen Moore
  • Defensive coordinators who haven’t been head coaches: Demeco Ryans, Jonathan Gannon, Wink Martindale
  • Coordinators in their first year calling plays: Ken Dorsey, Mike Kafka, Ejiro Evero

Those are some of the categories. You could look at special teams coaches, interim head coaches, in-house candidates. And you always have a list of head coaches in the college ranks, but are any of them ready to make the next step? Urban Meyer and Rhule came directly from college, and recent history will tell you is hasn’t worked out, even if there have been some successful ones.

Even if we weren’t looking for a head coach, every year I’d put coaches in those specific categories, so you’d always have a running list going, and maybe even look at some position coaches. Reid was the quarterbacks coach in Green Bay when he was hired by the Eagles in 1999.

I always kept a list of position coaches, and I’d identify them by seeing how players were playing, and how we evaluated them coming out of college. And I’d observe how these coaches would develop players. Some did a phenomenal job elevating the players beyond even what we thought they were going to be, and I’d keep them on a separate list and see what happened as his coaching career continued to evolve.

Making the Hire

It’s a long, tedious process and you have to be very patient and have a specific game plan of the criteria you’re looking for, and a process you have to finish. You have to constantly resist the temptation to jump in on somebody because they might get hired by another team. There’s plenty of qualified candidates if you really do your homework.

Once you hire someone, it’s like the end of the NFL draft. You just spent so much time, energy and effort trying to make the right decision, at the end of it all you get to catch your breath, at least for a day or two.

But then you’re right back to work, because you have to help your new coach start putting a staff together. And then you have to get ready for free agency, for the draft, identify what your team needs are. And then factor in the coach you just hired and his schemes. Are we going to have to change the way we look at personnel to fit what the coach wants? Once a staff is put together, they have to meet and put together playbooks so everything is ready when players report back from the offseason.

So it’s a day or two of celebration, having a nice dinner. Then the next day, you’re back at work, and everybody in the building usually has a sense of energy, feeling refreshed, and ready to go back at it again, even though you know it’s going to be a long process going forward to get ready for the upcoming season, the draft, and free agency. But you’re ready to go.

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The Coach’s Room: Breaking Down Rhule’s Firing, Week 5’s Biggest Games

After an exciting Week 5 in the NFL, Marty Mornhinweg, Chuck Pagano, and Mike Martz gather to break down the week in The 33rd Team’s Coach’s Room. They look at some of the biggest games, how new coaches are faring across the NFL, and the Carolina Panthers’ decision to fire coach Matt Rhule.

5 Candidates to Replace Matt Rhule in Carolina

5 Candidates to Replace Matt Rhule in Carolina
After firing Matt Rhule on Monday, the Carolina Panthers became the first NFL team this season with a head coach opening. The timing of the dismissal gives Panthers owner David Tepper an advantage because now he can start gathering research on candidates he will interview for the job. The first order of business for Tepper […]

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Why Matt Rhule Was Fired, What’s Next for Him, Panthers

Marty Mornhinweg, Chuck Pagano and Mike Martz react to the Carolina Panthers’ firing of head coach Matt Rhule on Monday in The Coach’s Room. They discuss their surprise to see a dismissal this early in the season, the role struggling quarterbacks played in the move, and what’s next for both the Panthers and Rhule.

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