Why Panthers hiring Matt Rhule could save Cam Newton's career
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor’s Matt Rhule is reportedly interviewing for the vacant Carolina Panthers head-coaching job after the team surprisingly fired Ron Rivera midseason.

It seems to be a match made in heaven for former NFL MVP Cam Newton, one that does not occur too often on the gridiron.

Very seldom do we see a perfect fit as it relates to a head coach and quarterback in the NFL. The list is limited.

  • Bill Belichick and Tom Brady
  • Bill Walsh and Joe Montana
  • Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre
  • Sean Payton and Drew Brees

The list doesn’t end there. But those are the four most recent examples. Modern-day form could include Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco as well as the tandem of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City.

Rhule coming to Charlotte to save Newton’s now-fledgling career could very well fit under this umbrella. Here’s why.

A first for Cam: It’s not that Rivera was a bad coach for the Panthers. He led the team to the Super Bowl and is the most successful head man in franchise history. However, there’s more to this.

  • Newton entered the NFL as the No. 1 pick back in 2011, mere months after Carolina made Rivera its head coach. He’s the only coach Newton has played under in the pros.
  • This is no small thing. Most successful quarterbacks have an offensive-minded head coach. We gave you numerous examples above. Newton has never had that honor in Carolina.
  • Just look at how Jared Goff’s career took off under Sean McVay. Garoppolo likely earning Comeback player of the Year came under the leadership of an innovative offensive mind. There are more examples than we can print here.

Matt Rhule: We’re not simply talking about an unnamed offensive mind. The sake of hiring for the sole purpose of extending Newton’s career in Charlotte.

  • Dating back to his days with Temple, the 44-year-old Rhule has turned around two disastrous football programs in no time.
  • The Owls had posted exactly one 10-win season in program history dating back to 1930 before Rhule took over. He led them to back-to-back double-digit win campaigns in 2015 and 2016. Hence, a basketball school turning to the gridiron for success.
  • In Waco, the story is not much different. Art Briles’ success and eventual departure from the program in 2015 is by now well known. A sexual assault scandal led to Briles being jettisoned with the entire program almost nearing its complete demise.
  • Rhule took over and led a watered-down product to a 1-11 season back in 2017 before seeing Baylor win seven games in 2018 and ultimately earn a trip to the Sugar Bowl this past season.
  • Realistically, Rhule has a history of turning around dormant programs and leading them back to relevance. Carolina would be no different.

The quarterbacks: Program-wide success is one thing. Showing an ability to lead young college signal-callers to success is another thing. Rhule has that track record.

  • Baylor’s Charlie Brewer might not be a pro-capable quarterback, but he quickly became one of the best Big 12 quarterbacks under Rhule.
  • The same thing could be said about the little-known P.J. Walker in Temple. He morphed into a capable starter after being just a three-star recruit back in 2013.
  • This dates back much further than Rhule’s head-coaching days. Here’s a former college linebacker at Penn State who started his coaching career on the defensive side of the ball with multiple schools, including UCLA.
  • It’s this knowledge of defense and transformation to elite offensive play-caller that has Rhule as the talk of the head-coaching circuit. It would only help Newton moving forward.

The elephant in the room: We can’t ignore Newton’s involvement in the potential hiring of Rhule.

  • The NFL MVP back in 2015, Newton has fallen on hard times recently. He played just two games this past season after undergoing both shoulder and Lisfranc surgery.
  • It’s led to speculation that the Panthers are on the verge of moving on from their Super Bowl quarterback.
  • By even considering Rhule, it seems that Carolina is looking at the possibility of retaining Newton rather than blowing everything up.
  • Newton himself has lost each of his past eight starts. With Newton sidelined, Carolina finished the 2019 campaign losing its final eight games.
  • A new offense. New wrinkles. An innovative offensive mind. That could be what changes the tide.

Bottom line

The idea of giving Newton more time to prove himself under an offensive-minded head coach for the first time in his career has to be appealing.

Short of Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, Rhule makes the most sense. He’s proved time and again that he has the ability to turn ships around just when they were about to hit an iceberg or had already sank like the Titanic.

Why blow everything up when an innovative offensive mind can solve one of the biggest organization-wide issues?

The success we’ve seen in San Francisco with the 49ers and with the Los Angeles Rams, to name a couple, should act as a precursor for the Panthers going all-in with Rhule and Newton.

This article first appeared on Sportsnaut and was syndicated with permission.

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