CHARLOTTE – David Tepper took a seat in his office and reached for a cup of hot tea. He's got a lingering cough from a cold. He's been busy – busier than usual – trying to identify the next head coach of the Carolina Panthers.
But cough be damned, Tepper was all smiles Tuesday when asked simply, 'Why Matt Rhule?'
"I think Matt Rhule can come in here and build an organization for the next 30 or 40 years," Tepper said a few hours after Rhule agreed to terms. "He can build it."
Tepper is bold. He's got big goals and he doesn't shy away from sharing them.
The Panthers owner wants to see long-term success at the highest level, and that's something only a handful of franchises can boast in this league.
One of those franchises is the Pittsburgh Steelers – the team Tepper grew up cheering for before becoming a minority owner.
And the Steelers' greatness began when Chuck Noll took over in 1969.
"He built a program that has lasted through three coaches," Tepper said of Noll. "That's what I hope Matt Rhule can do for us here. He's a program builder."
Rhule's first Temple team went 2-10. The Owls went 10-4 and 10-3 in his final two years.
Rhule's first Baylor team went 1-11. The Bears went 11-3 this past season. It was an incredible turnaround that got everyone's attention.
The Panthers did their research on Rhule. They knew all about his ability to create a winning culture. They knew he would be a top candidate before speaking to him.
But midway through the interview at his home in Waco, Tepper and others on the search committee all came to the same realization: He was the candidate.
"He's impressive in player development and sports science – recovery techniques, intensity of training, integration with the strength program," Tepper said. "He started talking about how he develops players and how he's going to pick his staff and we all went from being in interview mode to recruiting mode. Everybody just knew. We switched without a word being said."
Tepper knows the big question about the 44-year-old Rhule is whether or not his program-building expertise will transfer from college to the NFL.
Rhule has obviously never been an NFL head coach before. His only NFL experience is one season as an assistant offensive line coach with the Giants in 2012.
"Matt is a very good people manager. And I think a good people manager is a good people manager, college or pro," Tepper explained. "He's going to set standards for people. We're counting on people buying into those standards.
"And it's just the way he thinks. No BS. He's not afraid of constructive confrontation, not afraid to challenge coaches or players. He's a head coach."
Rhule is the first head coach hired by Tepper, and the Panthers owner doesn't plan to hire another one anytime soon.
Rhule and Tepper – they're kindred spirits in many ways.
"He dresses like (expletive) and sweats all over himself. He dresses like me, so I have to love the guy," Tepper said with a laugh. "I was a short-order cook, he was a short-order cook. Nobody gave him anything, nobody gave me anything.
"He had to work hard for everything he got."
View pictures of Matt Rhule during his time as head coach at Baylor (2017-19) and Temple (2013-16). Photos courtesy of Baylor Athletics and the Associated Press.