Sports Spectrum Magazine Summer 2021

New Carolina head coach Matt Rhule brings energy, faith to Panthers locker room

Since he was hired as the next head coach of the Carolina Panthers in January, Matt Rhule has worked to infuse his team with more energy and tenacity, and a quicker tempo. That was never more apparent than on Sunday, when Carolina held its first practice open to the media.

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“I think of it as, we’re going to go 90 minutes, we’re going to go an hour, two hours, whatever it is, and we’re going to just maximize our time,” Rhule said in a story for the Panthers’ team website. “I think if guys have maybe been somewhere else that there’s some other people that believe in practicing differently, practicing a little slower. So maybe this seems like a stark contrast to them.”

The format of Rhule’s practice was fairly standard, pulling from his experiences as the assistant offensive line coach with the New York Giants in 2012: first individual and group work, then one-on-ones and finally 11-on-11 drills.

“The practice we’re doing is just kind of how I was raised in football that really just seems natural to me,” he said. “We just want to move efficiently from drill to drill and have great energy, work really hard, and get out of there. We don’t want to be on the field longer than we have to. But we’re going to make sure that while we’re out there, we put great reps on tape.”

Rhule said there is a purpose behind pushing the tempo in practice.

“I think if it’s a little bit faster at practice, when you get to the game, it feels way, way slower,” Rhule said. “Then, hopefully, you’re in better shape. Hopefully, you can fly around.”

Panthers players have responded well to Rhule’s quicker practices and leadership style.

“I think it’s really good to make sure we’re the best-conditioned team,” Panthers offensive lineman Taylor Moton said, “especially when it comes down to the crunch time of the fourth quarter that we’re out there and we’ve got 100-percent focus because we’re in the better shape. I like how efficient [practice] is.”

Safety Juston Burris, who signed with Carolina in March, added: “It’s just [Rhule’s] presence. It was something that you could tell from those (virtual) team meetings. He commands a room, and he commands respect. And you can tell that if we follow his teachings, we’ll be successful.”

Rhule’s up-tempo practices and high-energy approach to football have yielded undeniable success. At Rhule’s first head coaching stop, Temple went 2-10 in his first year. The Owls improved every season, and by year four, they amassed a 10-3 record. Then at Baylor in 2017, Rhule went 1-11 in his first season in Waco. He finished the 2019 season at Baylor with an 11-3 record and in the discussion for a College Football Playoff spot. The Panthers’ front office hopes for more of the same in Carolina, coming off of a 5-11 season a year ago.

Yet in the face of such high expectations, Rhule knows that success in life is not measured by how many wins he accumulates or how big his paycheck is. Speaking at a Man Up Conference in 2018 (a Christian men’s conference series held at churches throughout America), Rhule’s address ended with a reference to Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Rhule’s father was a preacher, introducing him to faith in Christ at a young age. It has shaped much of Rhule’s decisions, even earning him the nickname “Reverend Rhule” when he arrived at Baylor due to his fiery cadence.

“[Faith] leads me in everything I do,” Rhule told the Waco Tribune-Herald in 2016. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m perfect in every way, but I do know this: I’m a Christian man, and I go where God tells me to go. I do what God tells me to do, as best as I can. I felt like He led me here.”

Rhule discussed his faith and how it shapes his coaching style in a 2017 video from Baylor University:

“Anytime God asks you to do something, I set my sights on Him and know that there will be small, fragile beginnings,” he said, “but knowing that His glory awaits some day … My prayer is that I will humble myself each day and draw closer to God so He’ll draw closer to me.”

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