Matt Rhule laughed for about 10 seconds as he tried to choose the right words.
What would have happened in January 2020 if Giants ownership — not Panthers ownership — were the ones waiting in his driveway when the family returned home from a vacation in Cancun and NFL coaching searches started heating up? Would he still be leading the Panthers against the Giants on Sunday, or could roles have been reversed?
“That whole situation, I had a chance to have a conversation with [the Giants] and I was unbelievably flattered,” Rhule said after the laughter on both ends of a call Thursday died down. “The truth is it never really got to that point [where I was choosing between the two.] I got offered the job in Carolina and took it. It just seemed like the right thing for us at the time.”
Rhule’s first NFL head coach interview was with the Colts in January 2018. A year later, he strongly considered leaving his post as Baylor’s head coach to take over the Jets. A year after that, Rhule’s success and desirability put him in position to command a deal reportedly worth $60 million over seven years from the Panthers.
But Rhule, 46, is a New York City native who loved his one year as an assistant coach under Tom Coughlin before becoming Temple’s head coach.
“I grew up dreaming of being Bill Parcells,” Rhule said. “Phil McConkey and Mark Bavaro and Phil Simms, those were my heroes. Having a chance to work there was awesome. It was a really special place.”
Rhule was scheduled to interview with the Giants — “It wasn’t like I was offered the job,” he reminded — but the Panthers’ offer was a jaw-dropper. Agent Trace Armstrong reportedly called the Giants with a chance to match the offer before even meeting with Rhule, so the Giants quickly pivoted to hire Joe Judge, who had just impressed in his interview one day earlier.
“My agent does a good job,” Rhule said. “He’s always trying to protect me and all those things. It’s just one of those deals where it never got to that point. He probably had conversations with them, but it just wasn’t there. So, we took this one.”