Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper is firing head coach Matt Rhule just five games into Rhule's third year, the team announced Monday.
The firing comes a day after the Panthers lost 37-15 to the San Francisco 49ers at home in a game where Niners red seemed to take over half of Bank of America Stadium. Rhule, who led the Panthers to a 1-4 start to this season, ends his tenure at the Panthers' helm with an overall record of 11-27. His teams never won more than five games in a season and never finished above third in the NFC South.
Rhule is the first coach in this NFL season to be fired. Defensive pass game coordinator/secondary coach Steve Wilks will be named interim head coach. Wilks served as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2018.
Tepper, who bought the team in 2018, hired Rhule to a seven-year contract in 2020. It was Tepper's first head-coaching hiring as an NFL owner, and it came after he fired the winningest coach in franchise history — Ron Rivera — toward the end of the 2019 season.
Asked then what the next coach's timetable for success would be, Tepper said: "If the fans are expecting something to be miraculous next year, listen, it could happen. Maybe, you know, it's that good, but you can't count on that. There has to be a degree of patience to build sustained excellence. I'm going to say that again, sustained excellence. You say five years? Listen, you want to wait five years for sustained excellence? You think people will wait five years for sustained excellence? For 20 years of winning seasons? They better, if they want that.
"You're not going to get things, immediate gratification. It may come, it may not come, will see how fast it can do. Listen, I'm not going to sit here and BS people. It's a building process. You heard about Rome, right?"
Rhule trademarked himself as a builder of programs in need of a rehabilitation. He went from two wins at Temple University to 10 wins by his third year. After a jump to Baylor where he won just one game at a program rocked by scandal relating to sexual violence, Rhule led the Bears to an 11-3 season (again in his third year) and a Sugar Bowl appearance.
But his building ways didn't translate to the NFL. His debut season was interrupted by the pandemic, and his first two seasons were marred by the franchise's inability to find a franchise quarterback that continues to this day. Several sources indicated over those two years that he ran the Panthers like a college program, and that didn't sit well with many players. But sources — some of them the same — noted a more mellow Rhule in 2022 as he loosened his grip on things.
Rhule declined to discuss the future of his job Sunday night following the loss.
"I hope you guys can understand I'm here to talk about the game. I've always been very forthright with you guys. I have nothing to say about that now," Rhule said. "I'm really just here to talk about the game tonight. I would never want to make this about me."