CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Coach Matt Rhule was figuring out his core at Financial institution of America Stadium on the Saturday earlier than the Carolina Panthers departed for a Week 5 recreation at Atlanta. He was struggling to the purpose that he lastly yelled, “I can’t do anymore!”
In stepped security Juston Burris with the phrases, “What’s next, coach! C’mon!”
The subsequent day, after Burris muffed a first-half strip sack that might have resulted in a landing, Rhule ran onto the sector, shouting, “What’s next, Burris! What’s next!”
What’s subsequent occurred with 8:49 remaining. The Falcons had been on the Carolina 5-yard line needing a landing to tie the sport when Burris intercepted a move at the back of the tip zone to all however safe the win.
At no level did Burris or Rhule put a query mark on the finish of “what’s next.” There was an exclamation level — simply as there was subsequent to the identical phrases on the sleeve of Rhule’s smock, which made its NFL recreation debut final week at New Orleans.
“The whole point is that we’re not asking what’s next,” Rhule mentioned as he ready for his prime-time debut as an NFL coach on Thursday (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox) at residence towards the Falcons. “We’re attacking what’s next. We don’t care what’s next. We’re just looking for the next challenge.”
“What’s next!” is on the core of Rhule’s course of that rotated applications at Temple and Baylor. It has carried over to his first yr with the Panthers (3-4) as they face Atlanta (1-6), a crew that fired coach Dan Quinn after their first assembly.
“What’s next” is what permits Rhule — and, he hopes, his gamers and workers — to shortly transfer on from disappointing losses comparable to Sunday’s 27-24 setback towards New Orleans.
“It’s not just a mantra that he preaches or puts up on a poster board,” mentioned large receivers coach Frisman Jackson, who coached with Rhule at Temple and Baylor. “Every day, when new things get thrown at us, especially with the COVID, you can see that he lives a ‘what’s next’ life.”
That mentality is required throughout a time when groups should regulate on the fly, whether or not to a digital offseason or an ever-changing roster as a consequence of COVID-19.
“It’s probably the ethos of our program — like, you learn from the past but never dwell on the past,” Rhule mentioned. “It’s just a mindset of we don’t wallow, we don’t worry … we just attack.”
There was some concern about whether or not Rhule’s fame, notably when it got here to bodily, padded practices, would work with professionals after the Panthers employed him and gave him a seven-year, $60 million contract.
A lot of Rhule’s philosophy got here in his solely NFL expertise in 2012 as an offensive assistant below then-New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who additionally got here to the NFL from the faculty ranks and had a fame for strict, controlling pointers.
There have been no participant revolts over Rhule’s guidelines — and there are many guidelines, starting with accepting his “what’s next” philosophy.
If gamers don’t comply with the foundations, Rhule shortly strikes on, as he just lately did with practice-squad participant Josh Hawkins days after the cornerback was captured on Instagram dancing in a crowded Charlotte, North Carolina, restaurant and not using a masks.
“He’s taking care of guys and at [the] same time being tough,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater mentioned.
Panthers linebackers coach Mike Siravo seen Coughlin-like conviction when he and Rhule reconnected at Temple in 2013 after spending the 2006 season as assistants on the Temple workers.
“Him believing in nonnegotiables,” Siravo mentioned. “Maybe not the same ones as coach Coughiln or as many as coach Coughlin but that there are some nonnegotiables to having a great program and confidence in we’re not going to bend on certain things.”
Some NFL coaches ease into the preparation for an opponent when gamers return from being off on Tuesdays. Rhule, aside from briefly weeks, believes in absolutely padded, bodily practices.
“Many free agents that have come in from other places [for tryouts], you get dropped into a Carolina Panther Wednesday, it’s like you’re on Mars,” Siravo mentioned. “Like, ‘What are you guys doing?’
“It’s a brand out there on Wednesday, trying to just be tough and competitive.”
One other of Rhule’s sayings is “iron sharpens iron,” and Wednesdays are how he sharpens his crew.
“He thinks you need one day a week of physicality. Otherwise, you’re going to lose it,” defensive coordinator Phil Snow mentioned.
Rhule additionally believes in having his assistants run throughout warm-ups or after follow for gamers to see.
“It’s a way for him and some of us [to] run off some calories and burn off steam,” Siravo mentioned. “People think we’re crazy. We actually used to run way more. But yes, it says we’re in it with the players.”
Rhule’s workplace partitions aren’t stuffed with footage or slogans from well-known individuals. Except a coloured sheet of paper with the phrases “We Love You” from his two daughters, there’s nothing in any respect.
“I’m just not that kind of guy,” Rhule mentioned.
Rhule makes use of his workplace for intense movie examine, conferences and, most significantly, constructing relationships. That was the case after a Week 2 loss to Tampa Bay, when he met with first-round choose Derrick Brown after the defensive deal with made a number of pricey errors.
Brown’s play has gotten steadily higher since then.
“Just him being as open as he is, it’s what’s really gotten our team close together right now,” Brown mentioned.
In the course of the digital offseason, Rhule had each place coach report video conferences so he may undergo them privately and later with every coach. If he thinks an adjustment is required, he makes it.
“Early on, I had a bunch of drills, and he was like, ‘Hey, can you explain how this helps?’” Jackson said. “I say, ‘Hey, Coach, I like this drill.’ And that answer wasn’t good enough. And so I eliminated a bunch of drills that I thought were cool drills that maybe didn’t correlate over to the game.”
“His brain works differently than most people,” Cornerbacks coach Evan Cooper said with a laugh. “His brain never stops, trying to do the small things and trying to gain the edge.”
Uncle Chuck and ‘beautiful football’
Rhule will tell you that he’s having a blast this season, despite the pandemic, but the coronavirus has taken its toll.
It took the life of his uncle Chuck Sponsky, a Pennsylvania Hall of Fame high school coach who gave Rhule his love of football, just before the season began.
“I looked forward to him coming [to] see me coach in the NFL,” Rhule mentioned.
What Rhule hopes the nation sees Thursday is a troublesome, gritty soccer crew that overcame an 0-2 begin to win three straight earlier than dropping the previous two by a mixed 10 factors.
The Panthers remained aggressive regardless of dropping their greatest participant, operating again Christian McCaffrey, for 5 video games. He may return Thursday. Their greatest defensive participant, deal with Kawann Brief (shoulder surgical procedure), performed solely three video games.
They’ve gone via every week wherein 5 gamers had been positioned on the COVID-19/reserve checklist.
The Panthers are an extended shot to make the playoffs within the NFC, wherein eight groups have profitable data, and the winner of the East will get in regardless. The Panthers are preventing an uphill battle within the NFC South with Tampa Bay (5-2) and New Orleans (4-2).
However Rhule doesn’t have a look at this as a rebuild, though many did when he moved on from quarterback Cam Newton and a lot of the key veterans from former coach Ron Rivera’s roster. Rhule believes the Panthers can win now, regardless of their inexperience and his inexperience as an NFL coach.
“If I had been beginning to take over a significant, worldwide company, I would carry this man in to do an post-mortem on my enterprise and see the way it’s run,” Siravo said.
Rhule is satisfied with the direction the organization is headed.
“I don’t just get bogged down in, ‘I want to win,'” he mentioned. “There’s one thing even higher than that. And that is the way in which that you just play the sport. I need to play stunning soccer. That’s our goal: to exit and play the sport on the highest stage, play it the correct method.”
When the game is over, Rhule will reiterate what he always does: What’s next!
“It just applies to everything in life,” he mentioned. “And it is one thing that over time turns into an ideal a part of this system.”