CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Transitioning from head coach at the college level to the NFL is never easy.
But for Carolina Panthers first-year coach Matt Rhule, it has been particularly challenging given the coronavirus pandemic.
Nearly five months after being hired away from Baylor to resurrect a struggling franchise, Rhule has met in person only about 20 of the 90 players on his roster. The NFL essentially shut down in March due to the pandemic, so Rhule has yet to run his players through a single practice, watch them progress and build chemistry.
And the clock continues to tick.
It's growing increasing unlikely the NFL will allow on-field minicamps or organized team activities, meaning it's possible Rhule won't blow his first whistle at practice until late July when training camp begins. Carolina's rookies and first-year players are scheduled to report July 21, followed by veterans a week later.
"There's certainly no playbook for this,” Rhule said Wednesday on a video conference call. “It's not like you can call up the other NFL coaches and commiserate and say, ‘Hey, how are you guys handling this?’ You have to kind of figure it out on your own.”
Because Rhule hasn't been able to evaluate players on the field, it's made it difficult for him to have informed input on personnel decisions — and this during an offseason in which the Panthers parted ways with several high-profile players as part of a rebuild.
Earlier this offseason, for instance, the Panthers released longtime quarterback Cam Newton without Rhule ever watching him work out or practice.