INDIANAPOLIS — Head coach Matt Rhule isn't thinking back to how he might have changed things in the past, but he hopes changes the Panthers have made in recent weeks have positioned them to improve in 2022.
So while the overhaul of the coaching staff has been dramatic, Rhule said his focus has remained on the next step.
"I've said it to you guys all along; if I make this about me, then I'm not the coach I say I am, don't believe in what I believe in," Rhule told a small group of reporters at the Scouting Combine Wednesday afternoon. "I'm trying to get the Combine done as well as possible. If you're a coach in the league and you don't feel the pressure to win every year, if you don't feel like, 'I've got to improve the team,' then what kind of coach are you? I want to make the team better.
"And I want the fans to have something. It's been a while since we've had a team that's better than what we are right now. The only pressure I feel is to be really really good for our players, for our coaches, for our fans. So I think we've done the staff right, now we'll do the Combine right. Free agency, we've re-signed a couple of our own players. Now we'll continue to do that. Be active as much as can in the free-agent market, and hopefully have a good draft."
Rhule said all his conversations with owner David Tepper this offseason have been positive and focused on the next moves in building the franchise, the same way they have been since he arrived two years ago.
"His whole thing has been to build the team the right way, to talking to Scott (Fitterer, the Panthers general manager) and I about the same things we're talking about, being really diligent about our approach about our own guys and free agency and the draft," Rhule said. "And it's really been nothing else other than, we feel really good about the progress we've made on defense. We have to have that same progress on offense. And on special teams too.
Even though the Panthers are coming off a pair of five-win seasons, Rhule's optimistic about the direction of the coaching staff and the team as a whole. He pointed to the recent improvements on defense, as they now work to do the same thing on the other side of the ball.
"It's always been very constructive about, 'Hey, what's the next step? What do we have to get done moving forward, to make that same jump on offense that we made last year on defense, and to make sure we maintain that or improve that on defense as we have our next iteration.'"
The biggest change this offseason has been on the offensive coaching staff. After last year's midseason coordinator change, Rhule brought in former Giants head coach Ben McAdoo as offensive coordinator. He also added new offensive line (longtime Packers assistant James Campen), receivers (Joe Dailey), and tight ends (Kevin Gilbride) coaches as well. Coupled with veteran college head coach Paul Pasqualoni coaching the defensive line, and former Panthers defensive coordinator and Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks returning to coach the secondary, this is a much more experienced staff.
Rhule said that the goal was to ensure "we have guys who are aligned, and all have the same vision."
"I can't go back. I'm forward-thinking," Rhule said when asked if he wished he'd have changed the makeup of his staff earlier. "I think any time you, after each year you say I learned this, I learned that. I've learned a lot in two years. I would not underestimate the value of having some really good young coaches on your staff and some veteran coaches.
"One thing I say to our coaches is I don't want 10, 15, 20 of the same guy. So in that D-line room, we'll have Paul Pasqualoni, who's been doing it a long time and coached J.J. Watt, and then we're going to have Terrance Knighton, who's a really young budding star of a coach."
View AP images from downtown Indianapolis, the site of the 2022 NFL Combine.