By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
After three years as the head coach of Baylor football, Matt Rhule signed with the Carolina Panthers to become the franchise’s fifth head coach Tuesday morning, as first reported by Yahoo Sports and NFL Network Insider.
The seven-year deal is reported by ESPN to be worth $60 million with incentives that could bring that number up to $70 million. The Panthers met with Rhule on Monday at his home in Waco.
The New York native, who has been the hot name in the coaching market for several weeks now, was also supposed to meet with the New York Giants today in New Jersey. The Giants are reported by ESPN to have signed Joe Judge, the former wide receivers coach of the New England Patriots.
News of the deal was later confirmed by Channel 6 KCEN, the local NBC affiliate for the Central Texas market. Rhule spoke to 6 News Weekend sports anchor Kurtis Quillin, saying it was “the right fit.”
Rhule later spoke to the media outside his home saying that the decision to leave Waco was “gut-wrenching.” Quillin reported several of Rhule’s statements through Twitter.
“It’s hard to pick your family up and move,” Rhule said to Quillin and other local reporters. “I really appreciate our players. They want to be in the NFL and they know this is my chance to be in the NFL.”
The Carolina Panthers also confirmed the news through Twitter.
Baylor Athletic Director Mack Rhoades and Baylor University president Dr. Linda Livingstone expressed their gratitude for Rhule in university statements and wished him and his family well as they move on from Baylor.
“We are grateful to Matt Rhule for all that he has done for Baylor Football and for the University over the last three years,” Rhoades said in the release. “Together, he and his staff have moved the program forward both on and off the field. While our hope was that Matt would be our coach for many years to come, we knew there was a possibility that the NFL would come calling.”
“Coach Rhule certainly leaves the program in a better place than when he arrived, and we have a bright future ahead for Baylor football,” Livingstone said in her statement. “We wish Matt, Julie and the entire Rhule Family well as they begin the next chapter in their lives.”
Rhule told reporters that the most difficult part was calling Rhoades to let him now of his decision.
“The hardest phone call for me to make was to Mack Rhoades,” Rhule said. “He brought me in as a guy from Philly and took a chance and I’m really appreciative of that … When I took this job, because of the troubles, someone told me, ‘They don’t give away mansions in Beverly Hills.’ To me, this is a mansion in Beverly Hills. It’s a great, great job.”
Sources told Channel 6 reporter Niki Lattarulo that Rhoades contacted the team earlier today to inform them of Rhule’s departure. Joey McGuire, associate head coach of Baylor football, will take over as interim head coach and is expected to meet with the team on Sunday.
Rhoades also said that he and his staff have launched a nationwide search for Baylor’s next head coach but that no information would be released on any candidates or where they are in the process of finding someone until the time is right to make the announcement.
“We look forward to finding the individual who will carry forward the vision of Preparing Champions for Life,” Rhoades said.
Channel 10 KWTX, Waco’s CBS affiliate, also reported that Rhule texted his players, apologizing for not being able to tell them he took the position with Carolina before the news broke to the media.
“I love you and this team,” Rhule wrote to his players. “I’m sorry you guys are hearing about this through the media. I have a unique chance to go try to win a Super Bowl and take the process to the NFL. I hope you understand. I’ll be here in town so please come see me at any time.”
Sources also told Channel 6 that All-American James Lynch told NFL agents he would declare for the draft if Rhule were to leave Baylor.
The news of Rhule’s deal with the Panthers comes after Rhule completed the quickest turnaround of a Power Five program in football history, taking a team reeling from the aftermath of a sexual assault scandal in 2016 from a 1-11 season to 11-3 in just two years.
The Bears made a Big 12 championship game appearance in 2019 as well as their first Sugar Bowl appearance since 1957. Baylor also began the season on a 9-0 streak, which came to an end when they hosted Oklahoma in November. The Bears’ only losses came to the Sooners both in the regular season and the Big 12 Championship as well as to Georgia on New Year’s Day in New Orleans.
Rhule had signed a contract extension with Baylor in late September. The extension had him pegged as the Bears’ head coach through 2028. The Panthers are reported by the Dallas Morning News to be paying Baylor a $6 million buyout. Throughout the extent of Sugar Bowl media availabilities in New Orleans last month, Rhule suggested he had no intention of leaving Baylor but that he would listen should the NFL make any offers.
There has been a myriad of reactions throughout social media about the news, but for the most part Rhule’s former and current players have showed an outpouring of support for Rhule and for McGuire, sharing their hope for the future of Baylor football.
Junior quarterback Charlie Brewer tweeted: “We will be in great hands. Excited for what’s in store in 2020. New year, new me.”
Freshman QB Jacob Zeno also wrote on Twitter that they would “keep the culture going.”