State High, Penn State Grad Matt Rhule Named Carolina Panthers Head Coach
State College Area High School and Penn State football alum Matt Rhule's ascent through the coaching ranks reached a new height on Tuesday.
The Carolina Panthers named Rhule as the fifth head coach in franchise history. Rhule's move to the NFL comes after leading remarkable turnarounds at the collegiate level for Temple and Baylor.
“I think Matt Rhule can come in here and build an organization for the next 30 or 40 years,” team owner David Tepper told panthers.com.
Tepper called Rhule "the" candidate to replace former head coach Ron Rivera, who was fired in December after Carolina started the season 5-7. The Panthers weren't alone in their interest in Rhule; according to multiple reports he was the top candidate for the New York Giants' opening after leading Baylor to an 11-3 record in 2019, with appearances in the Big 12 title game and Sugar Bowl.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Rhule and Carolina agreed to a seven-year, $60-million deal, with up to an additional $10 million in incentives.
"At the end of the day, I’m a competitor, so it’s a chance to go coach at the highest level and hope that someday you can hoist a trophy over your head and say that you were the best and your team was the best," Rhule told reporters in Waco on Tuesday. "Professionally, it’s a great opportunity, while at the same time going to a place that we’ve been, that we’ve lived, that we know the life that we’re getting into and we’re excited about."
Rhule spent his early life in New York City, before his parents, Denny and Gloria, moved the family back to their hometown of State College in 1991. After graduating from State High, where he played center, Matt Rhule went on to be a walk-on linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97, playing on some powerhouse teams including the undefeated 1994 squad that went on to win the Rose Bowl. In his final season, Rhule was named Academic All-Big Ten.
After working his way up through assistant coaching positions at Albright College, Buffalo, UCLA Western Carolina and Temple, he became the Owls' head coach in 2013.
Rhule led Temple from a 2-10 record his first year to a 10-4 record in 2015, when his Owls defeated his alma mater, 27-10, in Temple's first victory over PSU since 1941. In his final year leading Temple, the team went 10-3 and won the American Conference championship before he departed for Baylor.
In Waco, Rhule faced another rebuild, this time in both culture and on the field at a program rocked by a sexual assault scandal before his arrival. The Bears went 1-11 during his first season at the helm, but improved to 7-6 in 2018.
In 2019, Baylor started the season 9-0 and reached as high as No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Bears fell to No. 5 Georgia, 26-14, in the Sugar Bowl last week.
"Baylor University extends its deepest appreciation to Coach Rhule for his exceptional leadership of our football program over the past three seasons," Baylor President Linda Livingstone said in a statement. "We are especially appreciative of the efforts he has made in positively shaping the lives of our football student-athletes, who have excelled on the field, in the classroom and in the community. Coach Rhule certainly leaves the program in a better place than when he arrived, and we have a bright future ahead for Baylor football. We wish Matt, Julie and the entire Rhule Family well as they begin the next chapter in their lives."
The Sugar Bowl was the last game Rhule coached at Baylor. He said he communicated with players on Tuesday and previously said he had been frank with his team about interest from NFL teams.
"At Baylor, I’ll remember the players first and foremost. I’ll remember the things that they did... I felt like I was called to come here," Rhule said. "I feel like I’ve been released from that call and that time is over for me and we move on to something next. We’ll certainly remember this as one of the great times, not just in my life and my professional life, but in our family’s lives. I can’t thank you enough."
Rhule said he will have control over hiring his staff at Carolina. His staff at Baylor included a couple other State College and Penn State connections. Co-offensive coordinator Jeff Nixon was a running back at State High and Penn State. Rhule's father, Denny, who was known for his many years as an assistant coach for State High's 9th grade football program, also was a team advisor.
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