Panthers fired Matt Rhule after 1-4 start; Wilks is in charge

CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) – The Carolina Panthers fired coach Matt Rhule on Monday, ending the former Baylor coach’s tenure five games into his third losing season.

Rhule, the first NFL coach to be fired this season, went 11-27 with Carolina. The Panthers fell to 1-4 with Sunday’s 37-15 home loss to San Francisco as 49ers fans made Bank of America Stadium their East Coast home.

Defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach Steve Wilks will serve as interim coach for the remainder of the season. Wilks, 53, spent one year as Arizona’s coach in 2018, going 3-13.

Rhule did not immediately respond to voice and text messages Monday.

The 47-year-old Rhule was lured away from Baylor with a seven-year, $62 million contract guaranteed by David Tepper, the NFL’s second-richest owner.

Tepper was initially patient with Rhule after Sunday’s loss, but became increasingly agitated and changed his mind Monday.

Rhule said after the game that he didn’t want to talk about his job security because he didn’t want to do it himself.

Rhule’s teams went 5-11 in 2020 and 5-12 last year.

The Panthers hoped Rhule could turn things around in his third year like he did at Baylor and Temple before. The team had a steady rotation at quarterback under Rhule, with Teddy Bridgewater starting in 2020 and Sam Darnold and Cam Newton starting last year.

The Panthers traded for Baker Mayfield this offseason. But the No. 1 overall draft pick. 1 in 2018 has been awful, ranking last in the NFL in ESPN’s total quarterback rankings. Mayfield has completed 54.9 percent of his passes and is averaging just under 200 yards per game with four touchdowns and four interceptions.

The poor play in the most important position of the game put unsustainable pressure on the Carolina defense. Under Rhule, the Panthers were 1-27 when allowing an opponent to score 17 or more points.

Mayfield injured his ankle in the loss to San Francisco and was in a boot after the game. It’s unclear if it will be lost at any point.

Mayfield was one of several players who spoke out in support of Rhule.

“We’re good in the locker room when it comes down to it,” Mayfield said. “There’s a lot of plays we just have to make, and he can’t do that. He can’t go make plays for us. He can’t execute for us.”

This is the second time in four years that Tepper has fired a coach during the season. He let go Ron Rivera, the winningest coach in franchise history, with four games to play in 2019 with the Panthers at 5-7.

The Panthers haven’t been to the playoffs since 2017, the year before Tepper took over, and haven’t won a game since winning the NFC Championship in 2015 to reach the franchise’s second Super Bowl.

Wilks becomes the second black coach to lead the Panthers. The other, Perry Fewell, served as interim manager after Rivera was fired and went 0-4.

Wilks joined Brian Flores’ lawsuit in April, alleging racist hiring practices by the NFL when there are vacancies for coaches and general managers. Wilks joined the lawsuit along with Ray Horton.

The suit alleges Wilks was discriminated against by the Cardinals in 2018 when he was hired as a “bridge coach” but was not given a meaningful opportunity to succeed.

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