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Panthers owner David Tepper resets NFL coach market with Matt Rhule contract

Thomas Barrabi

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper’s private equity fortune gave the franchise a critical edge when it came time to lure Baylor University head coach Matt Rhule away from other NFL suitors – and may have reset the league’s coaching market in the process.

Tepper officially introduced Rhule, 44, as the Panthers’ next head coach during a bombastic press conference on Wednesday. Rhule said the Panthers’ willingness to make a seven-year financial commitment was a key factor in his decision to sign, adding that he never personally spoke to members of the Giants front office.

“The biggest thing I’ll say is when they offered a chance to be here for seven years, it spoke to me about the belief that we were going to do this together and do it the right way and there was no doubt,” Rhule said. “There was really no doubt the night before from my family and there was really no doubt from me, after just having that synergy that we were going to be here.”

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The Panthers signed the highly touted Rhule to a seven-year, $60 million contract that includes a $2.5 million bonus and incentives that could push its total value toward $70 million, according to multiple reports. The deal established Rhule as one of the NFL’s highest-paid head coaches despite the fact that he has limited experience at the professional level.

The money was likely a secondary consideration for Tepper, the former head of Appaloosa Management. With a personal net worth of $12 billion, Tepper is the NFL’s richest team owner, shelling out a record $2.3 billion to buy the Panthers in 2018.

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The Panthers hired Rhule before he could fly to an interview with New York Giants co-owners Steve Tisch and John Mara. Rhule said he never personally spoke to anyone but Tepper and his fellow Panthers executives.

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While the NFL’s highest-paid coaches, such as New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, earn $10 million or more per year, entry-level coaches typically begin their professional careers at a far lower level of compensation. Salaries for first-time head coaches typically start at $5 million, according to Pro Football Talk.

Rhule’s contract could establish a new standard for coaching prospects entering the professional ranks, especially as soaring NFL team valuations bar all but the richest individuals from buying into the league.

The involvement of the likes of Tepper and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who is rumored to have ownership aspirations, could push coach salaries upward for premier talent. Unlike player salaries, coach pay is not bound by a salary cap.

“There’s no question that this is going to set the bar – that’s just a matter of reality,” said Jim Quinn, a partner at Berg & Androphy law firm in New York and author of “Don’t Be Afraid to Win: How Free Agency Changed the Business of Pro Sports.” “For years, the NFL has managed to, either tacitly or directly, collude to keep coaches’ salaries down. This is going to change everything.”

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