Matt Rhule credited his one season as a Giants assistant coach with providing a springboard to success, and had things worked out differently, he might be the team’s head coach. Instead, the Panthers closed a seven-year deal with the Baylor coach before he even showed up for a scheduled Tuesday interview in New Jersey.
“I had a chance to work under Tom Coughlin at the Giants and it was a great experience,” Rhule said Wednesday at his introductory news conference as the Panthers’ head coach. “Then I went back to (coach in) college. If you look at the guys I coached at Temple and Baylor, we have a lot of guys who went to the pros, and that’s because I’m demanding and demanding of myself.”
The Panthers convinced the 44-year-old Rhule to sign a seven-year, $62 million contract on Monday, thus ending the Giants’ chances at bringing the former assistant offensive line coach under Coughlin to replace Pat Shurmur, who was fired after going 9-23 in two seasons.
“I never talked to anyone else but the Panthers,” Rhule said. “I don’t want to speak poorly about the Giants or anyone, but my agent took care of other conversations.”
The Giants were unwilling to match the Panthers’ offer, which is a record for a first-time NFL head coach. The Giants are set to introduce former Patriots special teams and receivers coach Joe Judge Thursday at MetLife Stadium.
It didn’t take Panthers owner David Tepper and general manager Marty Hurney long to realize Rhule was their man.
“Halfway through the interview (on Monday), Marty starts breaking down and said we had to stop interviewing and go into recruiting mode,” Tepper said. “We saw we had something special, and we had to get him to Charlotte.”
Rhule received high marks for a convincing presentation during his first media appearance since signing the deal, and there’s plenty of optimism in Carolina now that they have found a permanent replacement for longtime coach Ron Rivera, who was fired on Dec. 3.
“I love the game of football,” Rhule said. “I grew up in New York City, with basketball all around me, but I loved football. I went to Penn State (as a walk-on linebacker), wasn’t great, but I got to play, and that got me into coaching and meeting all different types of people. I thought to myself, ‘What do I want?’ I decided I wanted to be a part of football, the greatest game, at the highest level. I just have to figure out where.”
Rhule said one of his main priorities is building a family type atmosphere with the Panthers.
“Anyone who knows me knows I’m all about family,” he said. “I was sick one day when I was working at Western Carolina but still had to recruit so my wife, Julie, drove me all around Mecklenberg County to help me recruit.
“I met (former Panthers players) Steve Smith and Julius Peppers today. You see the greatness that has been in this franchise. We want to build a team that cares about each other and plays for each other, and that starts with me.”
One of Rhule’s biggest decisions revolves around quarterback Cam Newton, who missed most of the season with a foot injury that required surgery. Rhule remained non-committal about Newton.
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to Marty Hurney in detail about Cam Newton or any specific player,” Rhule said. “I had a chance to talk to Cam Newton (Tuesday), and I have the utmost respect for him. And he wanted to talk to me about the future, not the past.”