Panthers Fire Matt Rhule After 1-4 Start; Wilks Takes Over
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers fired coach Matt Rhule on Monday, ending the former Baylor coach’s tenure five games into his third losing season.
Rhule, the first NFL coach to be fired this season, went 11-27 with Carolina and leaves with roughly $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The Panthers fell to 1-4 with Sunday’s 37-15 home loss to San Francisco as 49ers fans made Bank of America Stadium their East Coast home.
Defensive pass game coordinator and secondary coach Steve Wilks will serve as interim coach for the rest of the season. The 53-year-old Wilks spent one year as Arizona’s coach in 2018, going 3-13.
The Panthers also fired two of Rhule’s longtime assistants, defensive coordinator Phil Snow and assistant special teams coach Ed Foley, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Monday because the moves had not been announced. Both coaches previously worked for Rhule at Temple and Baylor.
Rhule did not immediately respond to voice and text messages on Monday.
David Tepper, the second-wealthiest owner in the NFL, lured the 47-year-old Rhule away from Baylor with a deal that was notable for its length and dollar value for a rookie NFL coach. Tepper will have to pay out the rest of the deal unless Rhule takes another job. In that case, the money he makes will count against what he's owed by the Panthers.
Tepper was initially patient with Rhule following Sunday's loss, but grew increasingly agitated and changed his mind on Monday.
Tepper planned to address the media later Monday.
Rhule’s teams went 5-11 in 2020 and 5-12 last year. The Panthers hoped Rhule could turn things around in his third year as he did at Baylor and at Temple before that. The team had constant turnover at quarterback under Rhule, with Teddy Bridgewater as the starter in 2020 and Sam Darnold and Cam Newton getting starts last year.
The Panthers traded for Baker Mayfield this offseason. But the 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick has been awful, ranking last in the NFL in ESPN’s total quarterback rating. Mayfield has completed 54.9% of his passes and is averaging fewer than 200 yards passing per game with four touchdowns and four interceptions.
The poor play at the game's most important position put unsustainable pressure on Carolina's defense. Under Rhule, the Panthers were 1-27 when allowing an opponent to score 17 or more points.
Rhule was unpopular when the season began and fans targeted him even more after the Panthers lost their season opener to the Cleveland Browns in what was dubbed the “Baker Bowl.” Chants of “Fire Rhule!” got louder with each game at home, where the Panthers are 1-3.
Mayfield was one of several players who spoke out in support of Rhule.
“We’re fine in the locker room when it comes to that,” Mayfield said. “There are a lot of plays that we just have to flat-out make — and he can’t do that. He can’t go make plays for us. He can’t do the execution for us.”
This marks the second time in four years Tepper has fired a coach during the season. He let go of Ron Rivera, the winningest coach in franchise history, with four games left in 2019 with the Panthers at 5-7.
The Panthers have not been to the playoffs since 2017 -- the year before Tepper took over -- and have not won a playoff game since winning the NFC championship in 2015 to reach the franchise’s second Super Bowl.
Wilks becomes the second Black coach to lead the Panthers. The other, Perry Fewell, served as interim coach after Rivera was fired and went 0-4.
Wilks joined Brian Flores' lawsuit in April, alleging racist hiring practices by the NFL when there are vacancies for coaches and general managers. Wilks joined the lawsuit along with Ray Horton.
The lawsuit alleges that Wilks was discriminated against by the Cardinals in 2018 when he was hired as a “bridge coach” but was given no meaningful chance to succeed.