With the NCAA coaching carousel spinning wildly in recent weeks, with a flurry of top jobs becoming available, much attention has focused on Urban Meyer (Jacksonville) and Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona). But numerous league and college sources said the NFL coach held in highest regard by many premier programs is Carolina coach Matt Rhule.
Sources said LSU had Rhule atop their wish list — it ended up hiring Brian Kelly from Notre Dame — as did USC and Oklahoma, the latter yet to name a coach with Lincoln Riley going to USC. Programs put out major feelers for Rhule, sources said, a coach who revived programs at Temple and Baylor and produced staffs and players who excelled as well. Rhule is in his second year of what has been a rocky tenure with the Panthers, as that team struggles to find an offensive identity and, most importantly, someone to handle quarterback duties for more than a temporary basis.
There have been obvious adjustments that need to be made to the pro game — having to answer to an owner, for starters — and Rhule has built one of the top defenses in the NFL, but college programs still wanted to gauge his interest before moving on with their searches. That is likely to remain the case next year, though it’s hard to envision as many of these type of destination jobs opening up in 2022. Many close to Rhule have long maintained that the Penn State job would be the most difficult for him to turn down, but Nittany Lions coach James Franklin recently signed a long-term extension to stay in Happy Valley (though numerous college sources were adamant that he was hopeful of landing one of the several big jobs that opened up last month).
The Panthers will have to focus on rebuilding the offensive line and securing an answer at quarterback this offseason. Rhule is 10-18 thus far, having to coach most of those games without superstar running back Christian McCaffrey, who has been repeatedly injured and will miss the rest of this season on injured reserve.