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‘It didn’t end the way I wanted it to, but I’m proud I never lost the locker room’

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The Carolina Panthers fired Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start to the 2022 campaign ending just over two years of dismal output.

Joining NFL Network’s Good Morning Football on Tuesday, Rhule said the one area he wishes he would have been better at early in his tenure was building club camaraderie.

“I think when I look back on my time in Carolina, I look back on it fondly, I’ll say that first,” Rhule said. “I think I’ll always take away from it no matter what level you coach. … it always comes down to relationships. I wish I would’ve done a better job in year one and year two of having really strong relationships with the players. I can blame COVID, masks, and all those things, but last year, at the end of last year, I got together with Shaq Mason, I got together with Christian McCaffrey, and it was just me, coach Matt…

“It didn’t end the way I wanted it to, but I’m proud I never lost the locker room. I’m proud those guys fought and stood up for me until the very end. I hope I get another chance to coach. I’ll try to do some things better football-wise. But at the end of the day, relationships, and players knowing that you’ll do whatever you can for them, that’s the most important.”

Rhule went 11-27 in two-plus seasons in Carolina, with two 5-win campaigns before this season’s dismal start. Despite not winning much, the former coach believes the culture in place was conducive to winning if he’d had more time.

“The plan we had was right,” Rhule said when asked of his main takeaway from his tenure. “I didn’t win enough. I didn’t win enough to be able to see the plan all the way through. But that’s on me, and I own it. But the nucleus of young talent, the culture that we built… I think a lot of things we did were right. On my next stop, I’ll just try to accelerate that process. Try to win a little bit more early. Because in this league as a head coach, if you don’t win early, it’s over.”

It was over for Rhule after less than three seasons. The inability to coax consistent quarterback play ultimately submarined the Panthers. Part of that is on Rhule, part on the front office, and part on ownership.

Rhule clearly has plans to get back into coaching — whether NFL or college — in the near future.

“It’s been hard. I’ve been coaching for a long, long time, so that part of it’s hard,” Rhule said, noting he’s taking the time to work on his 7-year-old daughter’s jump shot. “I spend a little time every day watching tape, watching games and trying to do what the great coaches I have known do, which is after you get fired, going back and saying ‘hey what can I do better’ and get ready for the next chance.”

Steve Wilks replaced Rhule as interim coach in Carolina as the club has gone 2-4, including a narrow loss to the Baltimore Ravens Sunday.

Rhule stumped for his former assistant to get another shot at a head coaching job.

“Steve Wilks deserves to be a head coach,” Rhule said. “He’s a leader of men. If this league needs one thing, and if football needs one thing, it’s more diversity in the coaching hires, diversity in coaching searches. I think Steve has done a really nice job. I think that team, they’ve battled… He’s a steadying force.”

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