When explaining the reasons why he decided to fire former head coach Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper didn’t dive into great detail.
Obviously the wins (11-27) weren’t there. The team could never find a franchise quarterback in the post-Cam Newton years (that also included Cam Newton!). And there were references to the NFL being a “limited resource business” (i.e. don’t encourage trading away so many draft picks to be so far away from competing) and that there should be more balance between the head coach and general manager moving forward.
The answers were vague but both plausible and acceptable. Ultimately, no one within the Panthers building should have been surprised by Monday’s firing.
But beyond the failure to find a franchise quarterback, Rhule failed to meet his own standards he set in place near the start of his Panthers tenure. A document, obtained by CBS Sports via a source, titled “The Way of the Panther” is purported to have been created by Rhule early in his time as Panthers coach.
It amounts to a three-page treatise on the team’s process and vision under Rhule.
“Pepsi tastes like Pepsi 24 hours a day! We have a Brand at the Panthers,” the document reads. “This Brand defines us both on the field and in everyday life. We are: The Toughest, Hardest Working, Most Competitive Team in the NFL.”
Atop the document was “our Plan to Win.” It focused on common football metrics that can normally determine outcomes such as penalties.
The first point was “don’t beat ourselves.” From the start of the 2020 season when Rhule became the coach through Week 5 of the 2022 season — a timespan that will be used for all the statistics here and to follow — the Panthers had the 11th-most penalties in the NFL. Their minus-three penalty margin was 13th-best in the league.
Rhule wanted big explosive plays on offense and to limit them on defense. Carolina ranked 29th in offensive plays of 20-plus yards while giving up the 13th-fewest plays of 20-plus yards on defense. He wanted to win the turnover battle, but Carolina had a minus-14 turnover differential that ranked tied-for-25th in the league.
Rhule desired to “Win the Line of Scrimmage.” Carolina was 24th in yards per carry and 15th in yards per carry allowed. In seeking to protect its quarterback and affect the opponent’s, Carolina was 23rd in sack percentage allowed and 21st in sack percentage.
He also sought to win on third down and in the red zone. Carolina had the second-worst third-down offense in that timespan and the 25th-ranked third-down defense. Its red-zone offense was third-worst in the NFL and its red-zone defense ranked 27th.
And a key point was to win the “middle 8” and “final 5.” That meant the final four minutes of the first half and first four minutes of the second half, along with the final five minutes of the game. Carolina had a positive 11-point margin in the middle 8 (good for 16th in the league), but its minus-52 point margin in the final 5 was 29th in the league.
The document states that “if you can’t write down” this plan and “the Brand,” the staff member is “not OOU.” That is an acronym commonly used in the building that stands for “One Of Us.” OOU was used regularly in the draft and free-agency process to determine what players Carolina should and should not target. The acronym came to be mocked regularly by some staffers in the last year-plus.
Tepper said he had a “short, cordial” conversation with Rhule upon firing the head coach, calling him a “true gentleman.” Tepper had allowed Ron Rivera to have a farewell press conference upon his 2019 firing, something rarely seen in the NFL. In the six days since Rhule’s firing, the team has yet to even post a thank-you message on social media.