The Carolina Panthers’ 2021 season was a complete mess — and even that may be understating things. Despite an impressive 3-0 start that had everyone thinking playoffs were a reality, the Panthers ended the year in fairly miserable shape.
The Panthers went 2-12 over their final 14 games, finishing the year well out of the playoff conversation. Despite a lot of offseason excitement and lofty expectations, the Panthers were one of the worst teams in the NFL this year.
At the root of the Panthers’ struggles? Second-year head coach Matt Rhule.
Matt Rhule had a downright horrible season
No matter how you slice it, Rhule was atrocious this season. Not only did he push his front office to trade for former New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold under the premise that he would be able to “fix him,” but Rhule also botched the handling of the Panthers’ QB room all season long.
First, he started with Darnold under center. Then he went to P.J. Walker. Then to Cam Newton. Back to Walker, back to Cam, back to Darnold, etc. It was a constant mess, one that it made it impossible to gauge and judge the Panthers’ overall offense.
Rhule even fired offensive coordinator Joe Brady midway through the season, effectively blaming him for the team’s struggles. Brady was a highly pursued assistant coming out of LSU two years ago. The fact that Rhule couldn’t get along with him is concerning.
The Panthers are reportedly keeping Rhule around in 2022
Following such a catastrophic collapse, it’s reasonable to assume that the Panthers’ higher-ups have considered replacing Rhule at the end of the regular season. Rhule is only two years deep into a massive six-year deal. However, his results speak for themselves. It’s not working out in Carolina right now.
Despite all logic pointing toward Carolina pursuing a new head coach, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reports that the Panthers have no intentions of firing their controversial HC.
The Carolina Panthers are planning to keep head coach Matt Rhule for the 2022 NFL season, and he will begin a thorough search for an offensive coordinator next week, sources told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Saturday.David Newton, ESPN
Not only are they keeping Rhule around for another season, but they’re letting him hire another offensive coordinator. They may even let him draft a new quarterback.
The Panthers are running into an Urban Meyer-like situation
Before diving into this comparison, it’s important to note that former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer was both a bad NFL head coach and a distraction off the field. Rhule, on the other hand, hasn’t had any off-the-field disturbances. It’s just his coaching that’s the issue.
With that said, the situations still have significant similarities that deserve to be noted.
The Jaguars gave Meyer a ton of power when he entered the organization. He was allowed to fire and hire assistants, pick and choose player talent in free agency and the draft, etc. It ultimately backfired in a major way, and the lasting damage he left in Jacksonville will take time to clean up. Jaguars owner Shad Khan held on to the very last moment due to some false sense of loyalty to Meyer. He also didn’t want to admit he made a mistake hiring him in the first place.
In Carolina, a similar situation is playing out. Rhule is firing and hiring assistants, influencing roster moves, and ultimately coaching abysmal football games come Sunday. He’s given Carolina an abundance of reasons to send him packing. Yet, the team’s owner (David Tepper) is holding out hope, just like Khan did with Meyer.
The Panthers can give Rhule another year to figure things out, but it’s important to note that the longer he hangs around in Carolina, the greater his lasting impact. For example, he could set the organization back for years if he drafts the wrong QB prospect this spring.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.