The Carolina Panthers fired head coach Matt Rhule Monday after 38 games, in which the team went 11-27. After two seasons with five wins each, this was the year for Rhule to show he could engineer a turnaround similar to the ones he oversaw as a college coach at Temple and Baylor. Unfortunately, the NFL is not like college football and Rhule’s 1-4 start didn’t show many promising signs. The Panthers made a decision and are now in the market for a new head coach.
Fortunately for Rhule, he’s still a well-liked and highly regarded coach in the college football landscape. And there are some big jobs open already, with Wisconsin, Nebraska and Arizona State among schools looking for new head coaches. Which program with a current or expected opening is the best fit for Rhule?
It’s important to get a little background on Rhule here. He is 47-43 in seven college football seasons, with 10 or more wins in three. He took a Temple team from 2-10 to back-to-back 10-win seasons and led Baylor from a 1-11 mark to 11-3 in two seasons. His magic never quite worked in the NFL largely due to the lack of a quarterback and limited player acquisition powers, but he’s still capable to delivering at the college level.
Best Fits: Arizona State, Georgia Tech
These are two programs in a bit of an identity crisis, something Rhule has experienced before. The recruiting footprint at Arizona State is about in line with what Rhule had at Baylor, and might even be better considering the Sun Devils have better access to California than Baylor did. The Pac-12 is losing some firepower with USC and UCLA leaving, potentially making success easier to come by.
Georgia Tech has significant recruiting challenges and aligns closer to Rhule’s time at Temple. The ACC is likely to withstand realignment but there’s no real dominant force outside of Clemson. Rhule doesn’t have obvious connections to either school but both are situations he’s been successful in before.
High Upside, High Risk: Auburn (TBD), Nebraska
If the Auburn job does become available, Rhule will be a candidate. The Tigers do need to rebuild this program from the ground up, something he’s excelled in. However, the SEC is a different animal on the gridiron and recruiting trail. It’s going to be tough for Rhule to win a lot of these battles right away and patience is not something in high supply at Auburn. It might be in even less supply at Nebraska, where fans and administrators are still convinced a time machine taking them back to the 1990s exists. Rhule would be a fit in Lincoln and could likely unearth some new recruiting areas there but the flameout potential is also higher here.
ASU and Tech went elsewhere: Colorado
Colorado is in the same boat as Arizona State and Georgia Tech, but with significantly less cache. The Buffaloes fit Rhule’s credentials for a program in desperate need of a rebuild. However, there simply isn’t a look to like about this job at the moment. Rhule would be better than anybody else Colorado could find at this particular time, but he likely waits to see what other jobs he misses out on before going for this gig.
Not the First Choice: Wisconsin
It’s quite obvious the Badgers want to see if Jim Leonhard can do the job. Even if this does become a larger search, Rhule likely doesn’t have the immediate edge over other potential candidates like Matt Campbell or Luke Fickell. It seems like he’d be on the outside looking in, and Wisconsin needs more of a re-invention than a rebuild.