Carolina Panthers fire head coach Matt Rhule in third year of $62m contact

The Carolina Panthers have fired their head coach Matt Rhule after the team started the new season with a 1-4 record.

Rhule joined the Panthers on a seven-year, fully guaranteed $62m contract in 2020 after head coaching spells in college football with Baylor and Temple, where he boosted his reputation by turning both into winning programs. But the 47-year-old struggled to do the same in the NFL with a franchise that has had only one winning season since reaching Super Bowl 50 in February 2016. His overall record with the Panthers was 11-27 and many fans began calling for his head after the team finished bottom of the NFC South last season.

While the Panthers defense has been competent under Rhule, their offense has struggled badly. Since 2020 the team rank 28th in points per game, 29th in yards per game and 30th in passer rating.

They have also failed to find a franchise quarterback, cycling through Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold and a brief reunion with Cam Newton, who led them to the Super Bowl in the 2015 season. Former No 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield arrived this offseason from the Cleveland Browns, but he has been poor so far and is 32nd out of 32 qualified candidates in ESPN’s QBR rankings.

On Sunday, Mayfield defended Rhule after their loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

“We’re fine in the locker room when it comes to that,” Mayfield said. “There are a lot of plays that we just have to flat-out make and he can’t do that. He can’t go make plays for us. He can’t do the execution for us.”

Steve Wilks, who had been Carolina’s defensive pass game coordinator, has been appointed as interim head coach.