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When the Carolina Panthers gave Matt Rhule a seven-year, $62 million contract, they were envisioning a scene similar to his collegiate career. Rhule took the Temple Owls from a 2-10 to 6-6 to 10-4 record in three seasons. The Baylor Bears hired him and went 1-11 in his first season, 7-6 in his second, and 11-3 with a Sugar Bowl victory in his third. Sure, Rhule was now leaping to the NFL, and the Panthers’ roster was fairly depleted, but maybe the coach could make some magic happen.

Well, after two five-win seasons and a 1-4 start this year, the Panthers are giving up on any sort of miraculous turnaround. The team fired Rhule after a rough 37-15 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. It gives him a record of 11-27 in just over two seasons, a paltry .289 winning percentage. That record is the fifth-worst in the league since 2020. The Texans, Lions, Jets, and Jaguars are the only teams to play even more poorly, and all four have made coaching changes in that span.

Now, the Panthers are doing the same. And it could potentially be costly.

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Right now, the team owes Rhule more than $40 million for the remainder of his contract. But there’s good news for the Panthers: If Rhule takes another job, they’ll make most of that money back, and possibly all of it. Rhule is already a candidate for openings at Nebraska and Wisconsin. Those schools are among the five Power 5 universities that have fired their coaches, owing them millions in buyouts.

Rhule was possibly doomed from the start. He did get the final say on the 53-man roster, but couldn’t get dependable offensive line or quarterback play. In 2020, the team started Teddy Bridgewater. He lasted a season before Sam Darnold took over; when Darnold got injured, the Panthers signed Cam Newton to try and get the team back to Super Bowl heights. It didn’t work.

This year, Baker Mayfield joined the Panthers as a Cleveland castaway. It had all the makings of a comeback, underdog story…only it never materialized, and Mayfield has some of the worst quarterbacking stats in the league. He also got hurt in the Panthers’ latest loss and will likely miss multiple weeks.

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Now, Rhule has an interesting choice to make. He can look to take another college football job, likely signing a big deal in the process. Or, he can enjoy some time off, relax, and collect more than $40 million. Not a bad position to be in either way.


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