Baylor head coach Matt Rhule is moving onward and upward after agreeing to a seven-year deal to coach the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, according to league sources cited in an ESPN report.

Matt Rhule Carolina Panthers
Matt Rhule is headed to Charlotte, NC, after signing a seven-year, $60 million contract to coach the Carolina Panthers. (Image: Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

Rhule could earn up to $70 million over the life of the contract if various incentives are met.

Rhule Struck Gold at Temple, Baylor

Rhule earned a reputation as a man who can turn around a football program in a hurry over his seven years as a college head coach. In 2013, he took over a historically weak Temple Owls team, going 2-10 in his first season.

By 2015, Temple was a 10-4 team. The next season, he led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an American Athletic Conference title. He left Temple for Baylor before the Owls’ appearance in the Military Bowl.

A similar situation played out at Baylor. The Bears struggled to a 1-11 record in 2017, Rhule’s first season at the helm. By 2019, Baylor was an 11-3 powerhouse, finishing second in the Big 12 and reaching the Sugar Bowl.

Now, Rhule faces another challenge in Carolina. Not only will he be jumping to the professional level, but he’s taking over a Panthers team that finished 5-11 this season, and has only one winning year in the last four.

Rhule’s hiring was a slight surprise, as the Panthers appeared to be looking for a coach with professional experience. But owner David Tepper was apparently impressed by Rhule in a Monday interview. Rhule does have limited NFL experience, spending a year as an offensive line assistant for the New York Giants back in 2012.

Giants Back Out of Bidding War With Panthers

Rhule was expected to interview with the Giants on Tuesday, but canceled that appointment after agreeing to the Panthers offer. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network broke the news on Twitter, announcing that “The #Panthers are hiring #Baylor coach Matt Rhule, source says (as @PeteThamel reported). They are working out the deal as we speak, They did not want him to get on the plane to the #Giants.”

Rapoport reported that Rhule called the Giants to see if they would match the Panthers’ offer, but the franchise declined.

Rhule will take over for Ron Rivera, who was fired by Carolina late in the 2019 season. Rivera had coached the Panthers since 2011, going 76-63-1 over that period.

While many NFL teams were targeting Rhule for their open jobs, he tried to downplay the story of him possibly seeking new employment at the same time Baylor was preparing for the Sugar Bowl.

“One thing people don’t realize is coaches, we pick up our families,” Rhule told reporters at the time. “We rip them out of their homes. We rip them out of the places that they are. Sometimes you do that until you get to a point where you find happy.”

The Rhule hiring is one of the latest dominoes to fall in the fast-moving NFL coaching market.

On Monday, former Packers coach Mike McCarthy signed a five-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys. After Rhule signed with the Panthers, the Giants moved on to their second choice, hiring New England Patriots special teams coordinator Joe Judge to take over as their head coach in 2020.