Matt Rhule, Panthers Agree to Reported 7-Year, $60M Contract as New HC

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2020

FILE - In this July 17, 2018, file photo, Baylor head coach Matt Rhule speaks during the NCAA college football Big 12 media days, in Frisco, Texas. At 43, Baylor coach Rhule is far removed from a playing career. That doesn't mean he won't run the gauntlet with his guys to prove a point. When Rhule was helping turn around the program at Temple, he already had many of his players outfitted with XTECH shoulder pads, a revolutionary protective device that is gaining traction on all levels of football.
Cooper Neill/Associated Press

Following a three-year stint as head football coach at Baylor, Matt Rhule is moving on to the NFL after agreeing to a contract with the Carolina Panthers, the team announced Tuesday. 

Adam Schefter of ESPN reported Rhule is signing a seven-year, $60 million contract that can be worth as much as $70 million with incentives. Schefter also noted the Panthers paid a $6 million buyout to Baylor as part of the deal.

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated first reported the two sides were hammering out a contract agreement, with Ian Rapoport of NFL Network confirming the news. 

"They did not want him to get on the plane to the Giants," Rapoport said of the NFC East team. 

Rapoport noted Rhule gave the Giants the chance to match the deal, but New York declined and reportedly hired Patriots wide receivers coach Joe Judge instead.

The 44-year-old took over at Baylor in December 2016 and had to rebuild a program in the wake of the university's sexual assault scandal that led to the firing of president Ken Starr and football coach Art Briles. 

Per Thamel, Rhule rebuilt the recruiting class and coaching staff in his first season with the Bears:

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"Baylor signed four players in December and 23 more freshmen on Wednesday. Bears officials worried this fall about roster numbers dipping into the 50s as Baylor rebuilt. Instead, with 27 new bodies recruited in less than two months under Rhule, Baylor projects to be near the maximum of 85 scholarships this fall.

"While the Bears' 2017 class doesn't smack with national championship promise, it resuscitated the program's competitive hopes."

After a 1-11 record in his first season, Rhule rebounded with a 7-6 record that included a victory over Vanderbilt in the Texas Bowl in 2018. The Bears were one of the most pleasant surprises in FBS this season with an 11-2 record and an appearance in the 2020 Sugar Bowl against Georgia, which won 26-14. 

Despite those improved results, Baylor was on track to finish with the lowest-ranked recruiting class among Big 12 teams in 2020 by 247Sports' composite rankings (55th nationally). 

Rhule, who played at Penn State, has primarily been coaching in the college ranks since 1998. He joined the New York Giants staff as an assistant offensive line coach in 2012 under Tom Coughlin. He left after one year when Temple hired him to be its head coach. The Owls were 28-23 under his watch, including back-to-back 10-win seasons before he left for Waco.

Depending on what the Panthers do at quarterback next season, Rhule is walking into a situation that could lead to immediate success. 

Cam Newton has been the subject of trade speculation, though NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported the Panthers want a "large deal" for the 2015 MVP. He only played in two games last season before being shut down because of a foot injury. 

If Newton is able to return healthy in 2020 and the Panthers keep him, they have the ability to compete in the NFC South with the New Orleans Saints and an Atlanta Falcons team that caught fire at the end of this season. It helps to have Christian McCaffrey as a do-it-all running back who can carry a heavy offensive load. 

Rhule spent his last six years as an assistant from 2007-12 on the offensive side of the ball, including three seasons as Temple's offensive coordinator (2008-10). Baylor ranked 17th in the nation with 35.2 points per game last season.