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Matt Rhule carrying Giants lessons into Panthers rebuild

He is the “Program Builder” — first at Temple, then at Baylor, and now with the Panthers. He has read Bill Parcells’ Harvard Business Review piece, and Pete Carroll’s book “Win Forever” … but it is learning at the feet of Tom Coughlin that had an everlasting influence on Matt Rhule.

“No. 1, he had a plan, and he never panicked,” Rhule told Serby Says. “Whether we won, or whether we lost, there was a schedule, there was a plan, there was a process, and he was gonna stick to it. And I think that allowed him to be consistent. He didn’t sway.

“And so, my first year at Temple we went 2-10, my first year at Baylor we went 1-11. I thought back about Coach Coughlin, I said, ‘OK, don’t panic, don’t start changing everything, just do what you believe in just like he did.’

“And I think the second thing was we had a lot of great players and a lot of great personalities. He never embarrassed players in public, but he would always talk to guys one-on-one and he shared his expectations, and I thought that’s one thing I’ve tried to adopt, try and have lots of one-on-one meetings where I can explain what’s important to me and what I’m expecting and I can also hear from guys, and I learned that from him as well.”

Rhule was a 37-year-old Giants assistant offensive line coach when Temple came calling for him in December 2012.

“[Coughlin] came to my office, I’m working on the game plan, doing my small little job, he says, ‘You taking the job?’ ” Rhule recalled.

Rhule was taking the job.

“ ‘You’re gonna stay here for the rest of the year though?’ And he walks out. I’m like, ‘Aw jeez, he’s mad.’ ”

Rhule was going to stay there for the rest of the year.

Matt Rhule
Matt RhuleGetty Images

“So that night was the Christmas party, and I went to the Christmas party with my wife Julie — who was nine, eight months pregnant, whatever she was,” Rhule said. “And Mrs. Coughlin comes up: ‘Oh Matt, we’re so happy for you. Tom is so happy for you, so proud of you.’ I said, ‘Well he didn’t seem very happy or proud today.’ [chuckle] And she was like, ‘That’s just Tom, he’s really really proud of you.’

“When my daughter was finally born, after I had left, he found out and he texted me and he said, ‘Just remember, to the end, we’ll always be a Giant.’ That’s just the type of guy he is. He’s a family guy. There’s not a kinder-hearted man.”

The Panthers (3-2), even with Christian McCaffrey (ankle) sidelined, carry a three-game winning streak into Sunday’s clash with the Bears. The Program Builder.

“That’s me and my staff, and I say that because I brought a lot of guys from Temple to Baylor with me to the NFL,” Rhule said. “We believe that our job is to make sure that when the players play for us, they play the best football of their career. I think when you have that approach, where you don’t think you can solve problems just by waiting ’til next year, you don’t think you can solve problems just by having the best X’s and O’s. I think when you have that approach, players feel like the coaches genuinely are interested in them playing well and are trying to help them. When the players feel like you’re bought into them, I think they buy into you. We did it at Temple, we did it at Baylor, and we’re trying to do it here now.”

Rhule knows exactly what a winning culture should look and feel like, and he knows how to establish one.

“I think a winning culture is when everyone walks in the building each and every day, does their job and puts the team first, even when it’s not in their best interest, then eventually you’re gonna win at a high level,” Rhule said. “Culture, to me, is the sum of everyone’s decisions. We can have a philosophy, but the culture’s actually what they do. “

Rhule is a natural-born leader with exceptional communication skills who connects with the modern-day player and gets them to believe in him. He is a people person. His passion for the game, and for the men who play it for him, is infectious.

“I’m the son of a minister,” Rhule said. “My mom and dad both work with people. I think life is all about relationships. I’m not the greatest people person, I can be moody, I can have all my issues. But I do believe that life is all about relationships. That doesn’t mean everything always has to be warm and fuzzy, but things have to be honest and real.”

Left tackle Russell Okung was asked how Rhule motivates.

“I was with Pete Carroll when he first came [back] into the NFL and I was a first-round draft pick, [by the Seahawks in 2010]” Okung said by phone. “He had a certain style, he’s very energetic and passionate about football. I see some similar things, but also, I think Matt’s so focused on detail and continuity, and bringing your best every season single day.”

When Rhule first arrived, he talked about the Panthers brand.

“He knows how to set the temperature,” Okung said, “The expectations are extremely high, not just day in, day out, but whether it’s each period, each coaching session, he demands a lot out of us.”

Teddy Bridgewater (six touchdowns, three interceptions) is resurrecting his career as a starting quarterback. Asked what he had learned about Bridgewater, Rhule said: “Just how good of a football mind he has. I knew the type of person he was. He gets into the right play, he gets into the right protection, but he’s around here all the time. He’s truly a football guy, and I think that’s really important.”

Okung: “He’s a special player. Always cool under pressure. Is the type of guy that you want to follow. An incredible leader that knows exactly what to do, and does more than what’s asked of him.”

Rhule coached breakout WR Robby Anderson (36-489, one TD), the former Jet, at Temple.

“Having Teddy has helped him,” Rhule said. As have WRs D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. “We’re hoping that we build this offense that you really wouldn’t be able to pick your poison, I think he’s a great fit for our offensive system.

Tom CoughlinAP

“We’ve been getting him a lot of shallow crosses, underneath routes and he still has the ability to go deep. He’s the same player I had in college, he’s dynamic with the ball in his hands, without, and I think having players around him in this system has been really good for him.”

As has rookie offensive coordinator Joe Brady.

“Joe’s a tremendous young coach,” Rhule said. “He’s a lot like Teddy in that he’s a grinder, he loves the game, he loves to work, and it’s not that he had different plays than everybody else, it’s just that he works really hard at coaching our players and getting execution. He’s a tremendous, tremendous coach.”

Panthers owner David Tepper made Rhule an offer he could not refuse — a seven-year, $60 million deal that could reach $70 million with incentives. Tepper’s team will play the way the Temple and Baylor teams played for Rhule.

“We want to be a tough, hard-working, competitive team. We want to play the game hard and physical, but also play it the right way,” Rhule said. “I’ve always had this vision of we wanted to be a classy football team but also play really hard. I think the guys have bought into that and they’re trying to do it the right way.”

And he’s not opposed to trying to sometimes do it the Parcells Way.

“Bill Parcells … said basically there’s a way to win every game,” Rhule said. “And he said ‘power wins championships.’ Trust me, we love throwing the ball around, we love the high-flying explosive game, but at the end of the day, there has to be a powerful component to your team if you want to go win a championship.”

Matt Rhules.

This Post first appeared on “New York Post”

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