Al Holcomb didn't spend a lot of time with Matt Rhule in New York with the Giants (just the 2012 season), but it was a connection that paid off. Holcomb reached out to Rhule this offseason and it led to a job as Carolina's defensive run game coordinator. Holcomb is back for a second stint with the team after coaching the Panthers linebackers from 2013-17, before spending years in Arizona (2018) and Cleveland (2019). He developed a tight bond with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis during his time in Carolina, helping them become one of the league's best linebacker duos. Now he's here to help Rhule lay a new foundation.
Here are three questions with Holcomb.
How does it feel to be back in Carolina with this new staff?
"I'm super excited to come back, just because I spent five years here during a time where we had a lot of success. Seeing some familiar faces in the building, but also a lot of new faces in the building has kind of reenergized me, so to speak, from a standpoint of feeling refreshed. There's a newness to it.
"You're trying to lay a foundation, and Matt's trying to lay that foundation the correct way when you build that house, so that when you face times that are going to be up and down, you can go back and rely on the things that you've built on. There is an element of Xs and Os, but there's also just an element of running, blocking, tackling, doing those basic things that sound so cliché or so fundamental, but it is about fundamentals. I do believe that."
What do you remember about your time with Rhule in New York, and could you tell he was a future head coach?
"I didn't know Matt before getting to New York. The thing that I first realized about Matt is that he is an energetic coach. He brings a lot of passion and energy. He was working on the other side of the ball, but you could see him at practice communicating with the offensive line. You just felt his presence and you felt his energy. Throughout the course of that one season we were together, got to know him a little bit as you mentioned. A couple of us on the staff used to jog around the old Meadowlands. Then when the Temple job opened up, he went down there and earned the head job. At that point, I'm like, 'Wow, this guy is the real deal.' I'm not surprised at all at how quickly he's ascended and how he turned the Temple program back around fairly quickly. Goes to Baylor, turns that program around very quickly, so he's got 'it.' Whatever that 'it' is, he knows how to connect and get players to play at a high level consistently."
What was your reaction when Luke Kuechly told you he was retiring?
"I was sad. Seriously, I was sad, because Luke is such a great person. He's the kind of player that's really a once in a lifetime player for me as a position coach. Just because of the man that he is and the things that he represents and his core beliefs and core values, you wanted him to play forever. You wanted him to always be successful, because he's got a great heart and loved playing the game. Super smart, obviously we know that, great talent, just a better person in terms of his overall giving and how he treats people, how he respects the game and respects everybody."