Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule talks about Cam Newton, building a winning team

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Matt Rhule took over the room Wednesday when he took the podium for the first time as the Carolina Panthers head coach. He said he believes football is the greatest sport and wanted to be part of it at the highest level.

"As I sat here and was trying to make a decision about my life, I said to myself, 'Matt, what do you want?' and I want to go and be a part of the greatest game at the highest stage, and I just had to figure out where," Rhule said.

The Carolina Panthers officially introduced the 44-year-old Rhule as the team's new head coach Wednesday, and fans shouted "keep pounding" as he walked to the podium.

Panthers owner David Tepper said after landing Rhule that the former Baylor coach was brought on board to lead the Panthers out of what he views as a cycle of "long-term mediocrity."

Rhule promised to "work tirelessly each day to bring you guys a championship ... because that's what this region deserves."

"I'm so excited to be a part of this community," Rhule said. "I'm so excited to be a part of this team."

One of the first things Rhule was asked about was quarterback Cam Newton.

"I had a chance to talk to Cam yesterday, and I have the utmost respect for him and what he's done," Rhule said. "And I love the way he talked to me, quite honestly. He didn't want to talk about the past, he wanted to talk about the future."

Rhule added that he not yet had a chance to talk with Tepper or the front office about the long-term future of Newton or any other player.

Rhule said he was looking for an NFL owner and a general manager who believed not just in goals but in process.

"It's about the daily steps, the daily grind that you have to go through," Rhule said. "'Keep pounding' isn't just a slogan, it's a way of life."

Rhule was also in talks with the New York Giants but said when the Panthers offered him seven years it spoke to him about the belief that they were going to do it together and do it the right way.

He thanked Tepper and his wife for the opportunity and added that he said he wouldn't be here without the support of his own wife, Julie, who was a huge part of this decision.

"My aha moment was when they left and (Julie) was like, 'what are you doing? You need to to go work for them,'" Rhule said. "We've had lots of opportunities over the years, college ... and she's always been right. The second aha moment was when my son came downstairs and he said 'are we going to Carolina?' and I said, no ... this is a true story ... and he stormed out of the house. He said you had one job. He wanted to be here. I just think when you find something that's right, it's right."

Rhule said the next morning when the Panthers offered him the job, he took it.

Rhule's deal is worth $62 million over seven seasons, with incentives to make even more for winning.

"I want to make sure we honor this game that's given so much to us," Rhule said. "And that we build a team that cares about each other; that plays hard for each other. And I think that all starts with me."

The deal makes Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL, according to Forbes. The five coaches ahead of him - New England's Bill Belichick, Seattle's Pete Carroll, Oakland's Jon Gruden, New Orleans' Sean Payton, and Baltimore's John Harbaugh, have all won Super Bowls.

Rhule has a history of rebuilding college football programs.

He was named Baylor's coach on Dec. 6, 2016, after a sex scandal hit the program, resulting in the firing of Art Briles. The Bears went 1-11 in their first season under Rhule in 2017 with a depleted roster, but the team improved to 7-6 in 2018 and won a bowl game. Baylor went 11-1 in the regular season in 2019 before losing to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game and Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

Prior to Baylor, Rhule also helped rebuild Temple's program, leading the Owls to back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2015 and 2016 after going 2-10 in his first season.

"You just start building," Rhule said. "One day at a time. I truly believe that everything counts and that everything's important."

The Panthers are also a team in need of a major rebuild.

Carolina suffered seven-game losing streaks in the second half of the 2018 and 2019 seasons and failed to reach the playoffs. The Panthers haven't won a playoff game since 2015 when they went 17-1 before losing to the Denver Broncos 24-10 in Super Bowl 50.

Rhule replaces Ron Rivera, who was fired with four games remaining in the 2019 regular season.

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This marks the first time the Panthers have dipped into the collegiate ranks to hire a head coach. Previous coaches were Dom Capers, George Seifert, John Fox, and Rivera. Perry Fewell was the interim coach the final four games this season, going 0-4.

"I had a chance to be in the NFL, I worked under (former Giants head coach) Tom Coughlin. It wasn't a real long experience but I think it was a good experience," Rhule said of his coaching resume.

Rhule noted that his programs at Temple and Baylor produced a number of players who went on to the NFL.

As for the Panthers, Rhule had a message for fans.

"We're going to have a tough, hardworking, competitive team," Rhule said. "Tough to me means that each and every day no matter how we feel, no matter what the circumstances are, we're going to come to work and we're going to do our job and get it done. I want guys that are competitive, that want to be the best."

Rhule said it's hard to plan right now because he doesn't know what the team will look like but he does know that no matter who's on the team he wants them to be the best they can be and be process-driven, worrying about one day at a time.

"I'm going to be just so process-driven that I'm really just going to worry about tomorrow, then the next day and the day after that," Rhule said.

He added that he plans to hire assistant coaches who are great teachers.

SEE ALSO | 'One regret is not winning the Super Bowl:' Ron Rivera reflects on time as head coach of Carolina Panthers

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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