A bit odd, a bit unconventional - yes. But, the Carolina Panthers went down to the college ranks to find their next head coach in Matt Rhule.
If Panthers owner, David Tepper, and general manager, Marty Hurney, had the game plan of finding a new coach that possessed the traits of developing players, a high "buy-in" rate, family man, someone who knows how to install a winning culture and is familiar with turning programs around, they hit the nail right on the head with Rhule.
Yes, I understand that the collegiate level is nowhere near the same as the professional game, but Rhule's track record is hard to scoff at. He took a Temple program who, for all intents and purposes, is not known for its rich football tradition and history, and guided them to a bowl game in his second year on the helm. Rhule followed that up with back-to-back ten win seasons. Accomplishing that feat alone is rather impressive, but to do it as fast as he did is what really jumps off the page.
If you aren't impressed with that, just wait.
Following the conclusion of the 2016 season, Rhule received an offer to become the next head coach at Baylor University - a school that had just went through an NCAA investigation dealing with the sexual assault scandal. The program and school had such a terrible reputation at the time and it's not hard to see why. It was a dark, dark place that virtually no coach wanted to walk into. The new administration at Baylor knew that whoever the next head football coach would be, would have to have strong discipline, a great character and, first and foremost, accountability. They needed someone they could trust to run the program and to come forth with any potential issues - something former Baylor head coach Art Briles failed to do.
Rhule was that guy.
Not only did he completely change the football team's performance in a matter of two years, but he changed the entire culture and reputation into something that the university and its people could be proud of.
He essentially brought the program back from the dead and got the Bears to a bowl game in his second year - just like he did at Temple and, by year three, had them playing in the Big 12 championship with the chance at making the College Football Playoff.
So yes, he may not have been the first name to come to mind for many Panthers fans when Ron Rivera was fired, but he was the perfect man for the job. He's coming into a situation where several veterans have left or are potentially leaving the organization, with a rebuild on the horizon. Rhule has been there, done that, bought that tee shirt. This situation is nothing new to him. If anything, it should be a rather smooth transition for the new head coach.
The question many of you are probably wondering is: how long will it take for Rhule to get it turned back around? Can he do it in two years like he has proven he can do before and during his time at Temple and Baylor? Maybe, but if it doesn't happen that fast, don't panic. The NFL is a different beast and how teams go about rebuilding is a lot different than it is at the college level. You're also dealing with guys who have contracts on the line or big time money they were just handed, not a 18-22 year old kid who is hoping to one day get to the big show. I wouldn't necessarily put a timeline on it. Again, much of this will have to do with which direction the front office wants to go in. A complete rebuild will take longer than a semi-rebuild or if they choose to try and win now, that also changes things. It changes the personnel that will be on the roster and how much money they are willing to pay.
If at the end of the day, you are concerned about whether or not Rhule can get the job done, take comfort in knowing that he is a culture builder and he's been a winner everywhere he has been. A fresh start is exactly what the Panthers needed and in order to have success in the long-term, you must have patience in the short term. Matt Rhule is the right guy to lead the Panthers back to relevance.