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The 2020 Dynasty-Fantasy and NFL Impact of New Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule

February 14, 2020 9:57 AM
February 14, 2020 2:08 PM

I’m not going to reveal right away, but I will in the end, whether I believe Matt Rhule will be an NFL success (after researching, studying him the past week). We’re going to look at the facts and data and try and make a call, but I will say this as an opening statement – if Rhule fails in the NFL, there may never be another ‘hot’ college coach hired for the NFL ever again.

After the Chip Kelly and Jim Harbaugh hot starts and awful endings to their NFL journey, and the endings are the things remembered about each, there has been a bias not to hire ‘hot’ college coaches as NFL head coaches (and many top college coaches want nothing to do with the NFL anyway). With Rhule’s terrific resume…if this/he does not work then it may be another 5-10 years before it is tried again.

However, if Rhule is a success – then everyone will hit the college ranks looking for ‘their Matt Rhule. The problem being – there are not many Matt Rhule’s that exist.

Matt Rhule is basically the 180 degrees opposite of Arizona’s Kliff Kingsbury hire.

Rhule is passionate and corporate and liked by all…Kingsbury is California cool and monotoned/indifferent and usually ends up alienating players and coaches through a lack of personality.

Rhule is a former Penn State linebacker at the former ‘Linebacker U.’ (Penn State) under Joe Paterno, and he builds his teams on energy, toughness, hard work, preparedness and discipline (but is not a fake tough guy coach…just dedicated to excellence, out-working the opposition, and ‘will’). Kliff Kingsbury was a system college quarterback under Mike Leach, who brought his pro-offense (and no defense), up-tempo ‘system’ to the NFL while making sure the players get cell phone breaks during training camp practices.

Rhule has worked his way through the ranks in various assistant jobs in college and the pros, and ultimately took two downtrodden colleges and turned them into respected+ programs within a few years of arrival, despite having no real ‘wow’/five-star players. Rhule has been a minor-miracle worker and has been a hot coaching name for years. Kingsbury took over a successful college program at Texas Tech and drove it into the ground of losing seasons…even finding a way to have losing seasons with Patrick Mahomes in the end and eventually was fired for poor performance and was prepping for a life as a college O-C at USC -- until the Cardinals threw him a lifeline.

Kingsbury is the teacher you sign up for to get an easy ‘A’ with no stress/work, but you’re not making yourself any better. Rhule is the teacher you might avoid because it’s known to be hard work, but if you journey down the path with him – you’ll learn a lot, and he’ll wind up your favorite teacher of all.

Rhule is built for success…in college. In the pros? Open to debate.

Rhule has an impeccable coaching resume for such a young age. He got his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and then a Masters in Educational Psychology…perfect fields of study to be an NFL head coach, especially Political Science. He’s a former all-academic linebacker at Penn State. He took Temple from 2 wins to 6 wins to back-to-back 10-win seasons. He left Temple for Baylor and in his quick rebuild in three years he went 1 win then 7 wins, then 11 wins in 2019 and nearly a trip to the CFB playoffs. He did all those turnarounds with ‘lesser’ rated talent and no real stars that have gone on to crush it in the NFL.

On paper, Rhule is arguably the best coaching prospect I’ve ever come across.

But will it work in the pros? I’m not sure.

If anyone thinks this is a slam dunk because of the resume…some of you might remember another college coaching star who was a turnaround messiah and got a big contract to go to the pros and ultimately was a major flameout…only to return right back to college dominance (and never desired the pros again). This coach was the cult of personality, in his hay day, like Rhule. This coach had a resume for days, like Rhule. This coach had personality+ and everyone’s respect (at the time), and he had published many books on leadership.

Basketball coach Rick Pitino never did turn around the Boston Celtics in his ballyhooed pro coaching stint…despite all the fanfare and his supposed genius and a massive contract. Some may only know Pitino from the ugly Louisville scandals a while back – but there was a time that Pitino was untouchable, unquestioned and most revered.

Pitino failed in the pros because his brand of motivation, passion, ‘salesmanship’, etc., never worked with professionals. It was a homerun with college kids. It didn’t work with older players/the well-paid. The pro failure drove Pitino mad his entire time with Boston and he ultimately left in failure, and went back to college and built a top program quickly, again. It wasn’t that Pitino couldn’t coach…it was just his style didn’t fit the NBA in that spot at that time.

I’m wrestling with/wondering if Rhule will have the same issue in Carolina.

Rhule has it all – personality, charm, smarts…he talks of sports science and analytics and hard work and winning and community and history. He works the room, the press conference like a savvy politician. It all sounds great, but will he run into the same brick wall to success as Rick Pitino?

I think Rhule has a better, grounded personality than Pitino or Chip Kelly or Jim Harbaugh…it seems like Rhule is not an egomaniac, but we have to be careful – he is a well-schooled ‘talker’, political animal. Watching his Carolina intro press conference – he said the word ‘I’ about a thousand times, to the point where it made me wonder how he’s going to work in the big organization.

That Rhule introductory press conference was something. It felt like a young, well-groomed/practiced political candidate trying to win over voters in a diner for the upcoming primary. There was upbeat modern music playing as he (and the owner before him) were introduced/coming to the stage at his first press conference…like a bad political candidate ‘pump up the crowd’ music. It was very odd to experience but had a sense of flair/being different than the usual stuffy intro pressers. Rhule spoke to the room like a political candidate – all generalities, all safe (smart) answers. He’s a natural politician/talker, and comes across fairly genuine – but runs the risk of being the ‘working man’s politician, rolling up his sleeves to be folksy, and talking about concern for the middle class and railing against billionaires…as we forget the person saying these things doesn’t do any manual labor and is a multi-millionaire; they are not ‘one of us’ – but savvy politicians can make people feel they are. Rhule has some of that DNA, to me.  

Football teams, and every business in America, values ‘public speaking’ and ‘image’ over any other attribute…whether they admit it or not. It’s most American’s top fear (public speaking over fear of death), so when we see someone else so graceful at it…we tend to marvel and assign it, and the person, superpowers. In reality, too often, good speakers are usually just full of shit (like the rest of us) and just good talkers…but we are all swayed by it, nonetheless. Bad public speakers come off as stiff, unlikeable people (at a glance, without even really knowing them) and they tend to not win elections or get promotions. Matt Rhule’s press conference was as good, well-executed an intro press conference for a head coach that I’ve ever seen…but in reality he said nothing of substance or was super-genuine. It was just a well-executed speech/presser.

May I remind us the single greatest head coach in the NFL is maybe the worst, most disinterested public speaker in the league – Bill Belichick. He looks like he is in physical pain speaking to the media, and he loathes them and tries to curry no favor with them. Matt Rhule looks like his favorite part of being a coach is getting on stage and preaching/speaking/talking to ‘the people’.

Being a graceful, savvy orator is not a key qualification for being a great NFL head coach (see: Belichick). However, it delights the owner, GM, and fans, nonetheless.

No one has the coaching resume, oratory skills, energy, education, and personality combination like Matt Rhule – he’s the prototype candidate resume/action. If he fails, we need to blow up everything we know about hiring new coaches into the NFL.

In theory, Rhule shouldn’t fail. He brings all the operational skills in the world to the table and has a track record of success to prove it. He may have some ups and downs early on but given time I’m sure Rhule will eventually run rings around most of the league for years to come. He’s been too successful and shown too much attention to detail to fail. He should have the time he needs to build his team in Carolina – if had taken the Cleveland job, he wouldn’t have enough time/grace, but Carolina has a great, deep-pocketed owner who just wrote a big blank check to Rhule and David Tepper (owner) is not one to panic at the first sign of fan unrest.    

Rhule is an ‘operator’ more than a play caller with a ‘system’. He’s an operations manager, and I think that works in today’s NFL. Rhule will delegate to his assistant coaches, and Rhule will be the ‘face’ of the business setting the direction and motivating and changing the culture. If history holds true, Rhule will tank his first season not worrying about wins-losses, but more trying to feel his way through his roster and making personnel changes big time…kinda like Miami did in 2019. Rhule will be building for 2021+, and 2020 is just the necessary warmup/change period to get there. If that’s true – there is no way Cam Newton is coming back to the Panthers. Rhule cannot ‘rule’ the team and compete for the player’s attention and build for the future with the past/Cam. Newton is as good as gone.

What will Rhule’s impact on fantasy be? Great question. There are lots of issues to consider…

1) You have to question whether Rhule will continue the ridiculous Christian McCaffrey show…an offense built on constantly giving the ball to one guy and losing a lot of games while McCaffrey (and Norv Turner) pads stats and has their workhorse RB’s useful life worn out too quickly.

If Rhule throttles McCaffrey back some, in a rebuild season, and for CMC’s own preservation – is McCaffrey really the #1 RB for fantasy 2020? I think it’s worth debating.

2) We don’t even know who the Panthers’ quarterback will be in 2020? If it is a mobile QB running an RPO system (as Rhule ran at Baylor)…how far will McCaffery’s catch counts tumble – think about how little the Ravens, Texans, and Seahawks RBs are catching passes with more mobile QBs?

Rhule’s O-C is former LSU O-C Joe Brady…he is a pass-first kinda O-C…how does that affect McCaffrey’s touch counts as a runner? Not only the counts, but the system style he’ll run within.

Will Rhule want to pay McCaffrey a mega deal in an era where mega deal RBs are the death knell of a team's salary cap?

A lot of questions concerning McCaffrey’s new usage. A lot of possibilities on which way Rhule will go at quarterback/style.

3) If Rhule goes with a Jalen Hurts-style QB/RPO offense…D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel are affected/discounted. If Rhule trades up to get a Justin Herbert style QB, then Moore and Samuel have a better outlook, down the road, in theory.

4) Carolina’s defense ran hot and cold in 2019 and employed a zone coverage style from Ron Rivera. Rhule may have to overhaul the defense for a move to more man-to-man coverage. Luke Kuechly is gone on top of everything else. Are we going to see Carolina getting blown out of games early in the 2020 season a la Miami 2019, as the new staff guts the roster?


If Matt Rhule wants to run an RPO system with a Jalen Hurts type…and Hurts is the top runner-passer available in 2020…and a guy Rhule saw beat him twice in 2019 – and the first time they played, Hurts threw for 297 yards, 4 TDs, and ran for 114 yards on 27 carries – if Rhule goes there, then everything changes for McCaffrey and the WRs, for fantasy purposes.

The leading rusher, in attempts, for Baylor the past two years was his quarterback. However, at Temple, Rhule ran a more traditional offense. I’m not sure Rhule is married to any one style, so it’s hard to predict the direction of the offense today, in February 2020. I’m going to assume Rhule hired Joe Brady for his passing game work, not to run RPOs as a primary event…but we’ll see. Rhule is not married to a personal style…so, it’s all speculation right now.

My guess on Rhule’s impact for fantasy – I don’t want to make it until I find out who his QB is going to be. As for today, I’ll assume a young, rookie passer is acquired and thrust in Week 1 to go through the bumps and bruises in the rebuild 2020 project. I’ll assume Carolina will have a massive roster overhaul and lose a lot of games early in the confusion. I’ll assume they’ll feed McCaffrey closer to normal at first just to avoid any issues with CMC complaining about touches. That’s IF McCaffrey is even available…

We could also see McCaffrey sitting out for a new deal a la Melvin Gordon or Ezekiel Elliott. If I were McCaffrey I would do just that…sit out for a new deal and take 10 weeks off and come back when you have to in order to log a year of service (per NFL rules, like Melvin Gordon tried to do but found out no one cared about him). In response to a McCaffrey hold out, Rhule could be totally fine with CMC being out for the first 10 games…because he’s going to gut the Carolina roster/team and rebuild it from scratch anyway…2020 doesn’t matter. Let McCaffrey take some time off for his own preservation. No McCaffrey, and the offensive projections take a radical new turn for fantasy.

Cam Newton trade/cut, Kuechly and Olsen gone, McCaffrey holding out, Rhule trying to find his franchise QB, Rhule having to re-do the entire defense – there’s too many changes to confidently know today how this will play out for fantasy 2020.

With all the changes on the roster and the difficulty for ‘hot’ college coaches translating to the NFL…we may not know if Rhule is any good at this for 2-3 years. There’s a lot of flux ahead for Carolina.

If I had to bet…

I think Rhule ultimately succeeds in the NFL because he’s a smart operator, smarter and more prepared than most NFL coaches. He’ll fail if he’s just a rah-rah college coach who is tuned out by the pros.

I think McCaffrey mildly threatens a hold out, but Carolina pays up this summer to have a marquee player to sell jerseys and tickets while the massive reconstruction takes place. Rhule is looking at 2022+ more than 2020…and by then McCaffrey’s deal could be on the team-friendly side of things (just front load his contract while you gut everything else in 2020 and 2021).

I think Rhule leans passer with mobility (Burrow or Herbert) over highly mobile QB (Hurts), and it might be a veteran for a year while a youngster is groomed but I’d guess they get their guy in the draft and just throw him to the wolves to learn/gain experience. Rhule, like most NFL coaches, may only be as good as his quarterback…so his 2020 choice is everything. I just ‘know’ it cannot be Cam, if Rhule’s history is a guide.

It will take a few years to see how this really plays out/to see if something sustainable is built, but I would bet the most on one thing with Rhule – he’s going to gut this roster in 2020 and not care about wins-losses, and a lot of unpredictable chaos for fantasy results will ensue. Some good, some shocking dips to previously beloved things. Buckle up, it’s about to get interesting in Carolina the next year or two – but, ultimately, I think this is going to wind up a good-to-great hire. 


2020 Dynasty Offseason/Best Ball Subscriptions Now Available

It’s time for season #2 of our last season’s debut subscription…Dynasty Offseason/Best Ball.

I created Dynasty offseason as a way to communicate rankings/valuations on (500+) existing players (and also 400+ IDPs) for Dynasty and Keeper planning purposes (trades, etc.) as well as getting the jump on Best Ball/MFL drafts that begin in February and run all the rest of the year.

The fastest growing success percentage/money earning with FFM scouting/rankings/etc. is in those Best Ball/MFLs – draft a deep roster and forget it until the season begins, and then just watch the results…no lineup settings, no trading. Just pay to compete, out-draft everyone else, and try and cash in on our early/better read on things.

Dynasty Offseason subscriptions will be available when College Football Metrics begins (1/3/20), and you can purchase as a combo or just individually the one you want/need. However, the Dynasty Offseason rankings, etc., will not kickoff until right after the Super Bowl (articles and reports will post in January but player rankings/mock drafts not until past the Super Bowl)…and then we pile in material daily/weekly until opening day of the new NFL season.

If you were not a part of the Dynasty Offseason program last year, I will have more details on it on my playoff game recaps in 2020 and some additional explanation on Best Ball/MFL leagues, how to get started in them, how they work, etc. – if you’re not doing Best Ball/MFLs…you are missing out.


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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics. 

Email rc4metrics@gmail.com

Learn more about RC and the Fantasy Football Metrics system >>