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Is Matt Rhule on the Hot Seat?

The Panthers are reeling and some feel like the second year head coach could be coaching for his job.

A couple of years ago, Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper decided to make a change by relieving Ron Rivera of his duties as the head coach. The search for the next head coach came to an end after a couple of meetings with Baylor's Matt Rhule as the two agreed on a 7-year, $60 million contract.

The fanbase never liked the move to hire Rhule from the beginning simply because he was a college coach. At the end of the day, football is football and you need someone who can build a winning culture. Matt Rhule has proven that twice in his resurrection of the Temple and Baylor programs who were both in a very bad spot when he took them over. Early struggles are nothing new to Rhule so the 10-18 record he currently holds as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers isn't going to keep him from believing that he can build a winner in Charlotte. 

I certainly understand the frustration from the fanbase, however, I don't agree with folks calling for his firing. We're a little over a year and a half into the Rhule era. It's too early to tell if he's going to get the job done or not. Why do you think Tepper gave him a seven-year deal? Rebuilding in the NFL is a process. It takes time and Tepper knew that. Making moves for Stephon Gilmore, C.J. Henderson, and reuniting with Cam Newton during the early stages of a rebuild have some saying, "it's no longer a rebuild". I firmly disagree. Carolina got out to a 3-0 record and felt like they were a little ahead of schedule. When Jaycee Horn went down, the Panthers still felt like they could compete and win a bunch of games, hence the moves for Gilmore and Henderson. Cam was brought back due to not only struggles at the quarterback position with Sam Darnold but because of Darnold landing on injured reserve. 

The term "rebuild" is difficult for some folks to grasp. The whole point of a rebuild is to continue to get younger, better talent which is exactly what the Panthers have done. Does anyone remember how bad Carolina's defense was in 2019? In just two offseasons, this regime has transformed that side of the ball into one of the best units in the league. They haven't played as such in the past two weeks but having a few games like that are expected. The point is, they spent much of their focus rebuilding the defense first and it's paid off. Moving forward, they will flip that focus to the other side of the ball which includes finding a long-term solution at quarterback and retooling the offensive line. 

What I don't understand is where these lofty expectations are coming from. When you lose Cam Newton, Greg Olsen, and Luke Kuechly in the same offseason, do you really expect to be in the playoffs just two years later? I know I sure didn't. Again, it's a process. 

As far as the on-the-field play is concerned, I think some things could change. Perhaps it's time to move on from offensive coordinator Joe Brady. Two years in and Brady has struggled to get this offense that features some really talented skill players to do much of anything. Whether it be Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, or Cam Newton, the offense has a staleness to it. There's a lack of creativity and a huge display of conservativeness.

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Penalties have been a major issue for the Panthers this season. In fact, they are one of the most penalized teams in the NFL. Some will blame that on coaching and in certain situations, that's valid. Not with Carolina. This is the youngest roster in the league. That being said, what do young teams do? They get penalties. It's not like this is a team built to contend in the NFC this season with a bunch of veterans that have been coached poorly. It's young guys going through growing pains at the professional level. Rarely do you see teams as young as the Panthers have a lot of success to the point they are in a position to make a run in the playoffs, let alone make the postseason. Being a young team is one thing but being a young team that has no answer at the quarterback position is another. 

Yes, the Panthers traded for Sam Darnold. But let's be honest, he was their third or fourth option. They were going to be players for Deshaun Watson before that whole situation snowballed out of control. After Watson, they then put their hat in the ring for Sam Darnold. The Panthers apparently even offered Detroit a better offer than the Los Angeles Rams but Stafford refused to go to Carolina. Why would he do that? He's been on a terrible team for nearly his entire career and wants to win now. The Panthers aren't built to win right now. Will they be built to do so in a couple of years? Certainly, but you would have to think Stafford saw how young the roster was and said, "Nah, I'm good. I don't want to wait around."

People can have their opinions of Matt Rhule but for me, it's way too early to tell and no, he shouldn't be on the hot seat...yet. The 2022 season is going to be what tells me a lot in terms of the future of Rhule and the Panthers. If this thing is still stuck in neutral, then yeah, it might be time to look elsewhere. Even though the record might not show it at the present moment, this team has made progress. The defense has a bright immediate future, they've found their kicker (Zane Gonzalez) and punter (Lachlan Edwards), and they have some dangerous weapons already in place on offense. This offseason will be big for Carolina in free agency and on the trade market. If they land a quarterback that can stabilize the offense and protect the football, everyone will forget about these first two seasons under Rhule. Does anyone remember what Ron Rivera's record was in his first two years on the job in Carolina? Oh yeah, 13-19 (.406). Not to mention, he already had his franchise quarterback (Cam Newton) the first time he coached a game for the Panthers. If the Panthers find a way to somehow win three of the last five games, that will give Rhule a win percentage of .393 - not too far off from Rivera's first two years. Heck, even two wins will put them fairly close in comparison.

Considering the remaining schedule for the Panthers, two wins might be hard to come by. In the final four weeks, they play at Buffalo, vs Tampa Bay, at New Orleans, and at Tampa Bay. Even if the Panthers drop all four of those games, I don't see David Tepper moving on from Rhule after just two seasons. I think you have to at least give him one more season.

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