If you bet Matt Rhule to be the first coach fired this year (you could have gotten him for +225 odds on FanDuel this summer), now would be the time to collect. Rhule lasted less than three seasons in Carolina, going 11-27 in that span (.289-win percentage) without ever sniffing the playoffs.
It’s unclear what the immediate future holds for Rhule, though one would suspect he’ll land on his feet, perhaps at the college level with Nebraska or Wisconsin, who both have vacancies after firing Scott Frost and Paul Chryst, respectively. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has been promoted to interim coach (walking meme Ben McAdoo would have been the more comedic choice) and, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, will receive serious consideration for the permanent job, depending on how the Panthers perform over their final 12 games.
Following a failed coup in Miami (with Tom Brady as his coconspirator), former Saints coach-turned-Fox-analyst Sean Payton is expected to return to the sideline in relatively short order, potentially as soon as next year. Naturally, social media is already abuzz with rumors and speculation connecting Payton to the Panthers, pegging him as a leading candidate to replace Rhule in Carolina. Assuming he’s ready to coach again after his yearlong sabbatical (misleadingly framed as a “retirement”), Payton will presumably have his pick of the litter with carte blanche to choose whatever situation best suits him.
With his preferred choice, Dallas, looking less likely to have an opening (Mike McCarthy seems to be off the hot seat, at least for now), the Panthers could be at least somewhat appealing to Payton, though Rapoport doesn’t see that as a likely outcome, noting the Saints still hold his rights for another year and would be reluctant to trade him inside the division.
Injuries and poor quarterback play no doubt contributed to Rhule’s downfall, though the creativity and inventiveness that saw him rise to national prominence at both Baylor and Temple never materialized in Carolina, where the 47-year-old was outclassed and maneuvered at every turn. While Rhule’s unceremonious departure won’t help his prospects of landing another NFL head-coaching job (though he could be helpful as a coordinator or position coach), at least he won’t have to worry about his finances, with Carolina’s failed experiment amounting to a $40-million sunk cost.