Brian Burns: Matt Rhule '100%' the coach to turn Carolina Panthers around

Intérim OC Jeff Nixon says the Panthers, despite a six-game losing streak (0:23)

Intérim OC Jeff Nixon says the Panthers, despite a six-game losing streak and 5-11 record, are "closer than what people think as far as being able to win games and make some noise in the NFC.'' Video by David Newton (0:23)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers running back Ameer Abdullah saw firsthand in 2018 with the Detroit Lions what it’s like when the coach loses the locker room.

Players were so disenchanted with Matt Patricia that some reportedly made mimosas in the locker room to celebrate the end of the season and the opportunity to get away from the former New England Patriots defensive coordinator and his “Patriots Way” until offseason workouts.

“It’s not fun,” said Abdullah, who was released in November of that season but kept in touch with former teammates after his departure.

Abdullah doesn’t expect such a celebration by Panthers players after Sunday’s finale at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4:25 p.m., CBS). He hasn’t seen division between the Panthers and coach Matt Rhule, who has been asked multiple times the past few weeks whether there has been dissension in the locker room during a losing streak that on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints reached six straight.

“Not at all,” Abdullah said.

Neither has linebacker Shaq Thompson.

“I don’t think the locker room is lost -- at all,” he said. “People may be frustrated. Anybody would be frustrated going on a losing streak. But these guys right here, we’re going to stick together and fight, regardless.”

Rhule saw that fight in Sunday's 18-10 loss, Carolina’s 11th setback in 13 games. He expects to see it again against the Buccaneers.

“You get to this point in the season, you have a team that plays that hard, that means you have a good locker room, you have good guys,” Rhule said. “We have good guys.”

Outside linebacker Brian Burns agreed, adding he “100%” believes Rhule is the coach to lead Carolina into the future.

That’s not easily seen outside the walls of Bank of America Stadium. Many fans see only that the Panthers are 5-11 this season after going 5-11 a year ago, Rhule’s first.

Count former Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. among those who question interim offensive coordinator Jeff Nixon saying the Panthers are “closer than what people think as far as being able to win games and make some noise in the NFC.’’

Smith tweeted: "Do the Carolina Panthers know their own deficiencies? Because the fans that watch every week and the opponents they play every week seem to know the Carolina Panthers deficiencies"

Fans don’t understand how Rhule can say the process he used to turn around college programs at Temple and Baylor is “1000% working” when the results on the field don’t support that.

But part of that process is persuading players to continue to play hard when the results aren’t there. Edge rusher Haason Reddick knows that better than most. He was with Rhule at Temple when the Owls were 2-10 and 6-6 the first two seasons before going 10-4 in the third.

“Fans, as much as I love them, as much as I love the fans here, they’re not in the building every day,” Reddick said. “They don’t get to see how players are developing, how these younger players are maturing.

“People on the outside, sorry to say, they don’t always see that when your record doesn’t reflect it.”

That doesn’t mean there isn’t frustration on the inside.

“Man, hell yeah I’m frustrated,” Thompson said. “Busting my ass ... we’re all busting our ass. To go out there and fight for the win, and not to have the outcome, man, that s--- is frustrating. But each and every day, we’re going to get the corrections and attack next week.”

Losing doesn't have to divide a team

Frustration sometimes leads to division. In 1992, after an 0-5 start, players at the University of South Carolina met privately and voted 62-24 to have coach Sparky Woods removed.

The next week, Woods named rookie Steve Taneyhill the starting quarterback. The Gamecocks upset 15th-ranked Mississippi State to begin a four-game winning streak. They won five of their last six games, and Woods was given one more season before being fired after another 5-6 record.

Some Detroit players in 2018 were divided on Patricia by the end of his first training camp. They were coming off a 9-7 season under Jim Caldwell and felt they were close to turning the corner.

Not all appreciated Patricia’s “the hard way is the right way” mantra that put players through one of the most demanding training camps many had seen. Not all appreciated Patricia’s in-your-face approach.

That the Lions started 1-3 en route to a 6-10 record magnified the frustration. Patricia survived thats but was fired 10 games into his third season with a 13-29-1 record.

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor faced scrutiny in 2020. After a 2-7-1 start that put his overall record at 4-21-1, Sports Illustrated wrote a story titled “An Inside Look At the Bengals’ Toxic Culture.”

According to the story, “multiple sources have described the culture in Cincinnati as more of a ‘college-level’ environment instead of a professional locker room.”

This season, the Bengals, with quarterback Joe Burrow healthy and now playing like the top pick of the 2020 draft, are 10-6 and locked into the playoffs as the AFC North division winners.

Rhule pleased with Panthers' locker room

Rhule, whose only year of NFL experience prior to getting a seven-year, $62 million deal to coach the Panthers, has faced similar criticism regarding a college environment. That much of his coaching staff was with him at Baylor and Temple, and that seven of his current players played for him in college, flames that fire.

Rhule understands. He also understands there are things that need fixing, starting with the offensive line and quarterback.

He again points to the effort at New Orleans.

“Sometimes when you lose, all different things get out, agendas get out,” he said. “In my opinion, those guys went out and laid it on the line. Just as a football fan, that meant a lot to me.

“I’ve been pleased with our locker room. Obviously, no one is happy with the results. But guys genuinely enjoy each other. They have good relationships with the coaches and the staff.”

In time, Rhule believes that will pay off. If it doesn’t, he could be out of a job, as Patricia was in 2020 following a 4-7 start.

“From where we started at to where we are now, there’s a lot of good things happening,” Rhule insisted. “Just the results aren’t where it needs to be. That’s what people should be frustrated at, but I believe it’s coming.”