By Carey Phillips
Former Western Carolina assistant coach Matt Rhule has been named coach of the Carolina Panthers.
Rhule served as an assistant under Kent Briggs from 2002-05. His duties included coaching linebackers and the offensive line, while also coordinating both the running game and special teams. He was eventually named assistant head coach and handled many of the football office duties while Briggs battled cancer.
“Some guys you know are special when you first meet them,” Briggs said. “Matt Rhule is one of those guys. I am not surprised that he has moved into this opportunity so fast. He did with me at Western Carolina as I moved him up fast in our program by giving more responsibilities every chance I got. He is a great communicator and motivator with a real gift of connecting with his players.”
Following his time in Cullowhee, Rhule went on to be a position coach at Temple and was an assistant for one year with the New York Giants. He returned to Temple as head coach in 2013. After going 2-10 his first season, the Owls won 10 games in years three and four.
Ruhle took over a scandal-plagued Baylor program in 2017 and won just one game. Two years later, the Bears went 11-3 and played in the Big 12 Conference championship game.
At least three of his former WCU players, all kickers who he worked with as special teams coordinator, are coaches in Jackson County schools. They are Smoky Mountain soccer coach Stephen Brown, SM assistant soccer coach Johnathan Parsons and Blue Ridge athletic director and women’s basketball coach Tim Mayse.
“The guy was a competitor,” Brown said. “I loved playing for him. He’s got that New York kind of high-paced personality. I remember him having a great rapport with his players. Guys seemed to gravitate toward him. He could motivate a brick wall.
“I’m so excited for him,” Brown added. “I texted him and congratulated him. Of all the places in the NFL, to see him come back to North Carolina is neat. I’m so proud of him and what he has done at Temple and Baylor.”
Parsons was a freshman in Rhule’s last season at WCU.
“I remember his attention to detail,” Parsons said. “No matter what he was doing he had attention to every aspect. He always wanted to be the best. His expectation of you and the unit was always to perform at the best. The success he’s had doesn’t surprise me. I’m excited for him and that organization to have a man of his character. His coaching ability has proven itself at Temple and Baylor. I think it speaks to him as a man and what he values in life. It’s cool that he has had such an impact on my life and he has done that for hundreds and hundreds of young men.”
Mayse was a two-time All-Southern Conference punter while Rhule was special teams coordinator for the Catamounts.
“I thought he did a great job drawing up schemes on special teams,” Mayse said. A lot of coaches look at special teams as a burden, but he looked at it as a point of emphasis. He really invested his time in scheming for opponents. We could tell he was going to be destined for greater things.”
Mayse said he has a picture of himself, Brown, Parsons and Rhule in his office.
“All the former players I’ve talked to are excited about him coming back to North Carolina and being the face of the Panthers,” Mayse said.