Matt Rhule is settling into his new job as Nebraska head coach, but he took time to look back at his troubled stint with the Carolina Panthers.
His deduction? Rhule wouldn't have taken the job, knowing what he knows now.
"I think I probably would just have taken another job," Rhule said on The Season with Peter Schrager podcast. "A great place with wonderful people, but I just don't know if I was a fit there."
Rhule was hired by the Panthers in January 2020 after being lured away from Baylor, receiving a seven-year contract worth $62 million. After winning only 11 of his 38 NFL games over parts of three seasons, the Panthers fired him in early November.
"It's a funny thing, that thing called patience," Panthers owner David Tepper said in October in explaining Rhule's dismissal. "If you ask the average fan out there, they would think I was ridiculously patient. ... I think you have to show the right amount of patience and (look at) the progress that is being made. Are we winning more? Are we progressing in different ways? In all of those situations we spoke of, it hasn't been that."
Nebraska moved quickly to land Rhule, who successfully revived the programs at Temple (from two wins in 2013 to 10 in 2015) and Baylor (from one win in 2017 to 10 in 2019) before making the jump to the NFL. Rhule now has an eight-year contract from Nebraska to bring the glory back to the Cornhuskers, who have endured six straight losing seasons and last made a bowl game in 2016.
Rhule told Schrager that his biggest issue with the Panthers job was that the expectations and the timetable for that turnaround were changed after he agreed to take the job.
"At the end of the day, we talked about, 'Hey, we're gonna have a four-year plan, a five-year plan,'" he said. "You know, if you tell me, 'Hey, we've got a two-year plan,' then I'm gonna go sign a bunch of free agents and do it.
"So what was a four-year plan became a two-year-and-five-game plan real quick."
Although he "hated getting fired," Rhule said he was not angry at how it ended. But he did suggest that the plug had been pulled too soon to see the seeds of their labor.
"I'm not angry about it at the end of the day," Rhule said. "I understand, but if it's gonna be that quick, then we're gonna sign some more free agents, we're gonna go make the blockbuster trade, we're gonna do those things."
When Rhule was fired, the Panthers sat at 1-4. They've since gone 3-4 under interim head coach Steve Wilks. Rhule suggested that he believed the team would have been on track to win next season in Carolina with a few moves this coming offseason to restock the higher-end talent on the roster.
"I think the trajectory that we were on was correct," he said. "It was to have a team that next year could make a big trade. I think you see the signs of it right now. When they play well on offense, they win. There's a good defense there. I give Steve all the credit, I give the coaches all the credit, but I'm part of that building process.
"Had that just stayed for maybe through that year and maybe made the big free agent signing this year to get over the top, I think that the Panthers could win the NFC South for years to come."
Rhule also pointed to the slow starts of the 49ers in 2021 and the Washington Commanders this season, indicating that Kyle Shanahan and Ron Rivera, respectively, benefitted from more patience approaches from their franchises than Rhule did from Carolina.
"The only thing I didn't want to do was leave the guys early because I believed the team would have a chance if this thing started to click," Rhule said.
Asked what he might have done differently knowing what he knows now, Rhule didn't get specific, but did hint that the Panthers were involved in a few big trades that fell through.
"Some little things -- I might've not signed this guy, I might've traded for this guy -- but there's no major one," he said. "As I've said to you, we had some close attempts at some blockbuster trades, and if one of those trades would've gone through, we might be in a whole different spot.
"But everything happens for a reason. I'm here (at Nebraska), and you know what, I'm probably supposed to be here."
Rhule's head-coaching record with Temple and Baylor was a combined 47–43. His mark with the Panthers was 11–27. Perhaps he will be better off back in the college game.