As Matt Rhule returns from his vacation to Cabo, he still finds himself in the same power position as he was when he left. He's the hottest coach on the NFL's current carousel.
And he's still the one the Giants want the most.
That will take a step closer to becoming reality on Tuesday, when Giants brass heads to Waco, Texas, for their long-awaited interview with the Baylor head coach. There remains "strong interest" on both sides, according to multiple NFL sources, though his coronation is definitely not a slam dunk.
That's because the 44-year-old Rhule has options. He is scheduled to meet with Carolina Panthers officials on Monday, and they not only appear to have a better current talent base, but they also could be willing to offer Rhule more power -- including a chance to hand pick their future general manager. And he also could return to Baylor, where he makes a $4 million salary, not including incentives and is signed through 2028.
The Cleveland Browns also could have been an option for Rhule, but he declined their request to interview for their vacant head coaching job. It's also possible the Dallas Cowboys -- who still hadn't fired head coach Jason Garrett, until an official announcement came Sunday evening -- could ask to talk to Rhule, but that doesn't appear to have happened yet.
The Giants don't seem deterred by the competition, though, nor are they deterred by what Rhule described as an "aggressive" buyout in his contract - a buyout some have speculated is up near $15 million. The Giants had long ago targeted him as their top candidate, according to a source, and have been eyeing him since his one year as the Giants assistant offensive line coach in 2012.
Since then, Rhule has gone on to turn around the football programs at both Temple at Baylor and has earned a reputation as a strong leader and a program-builder -- two things that are high up on the list of qualities the Giants are seeking this time around. His work at Baylor has drawn particularly praise and opened eyes all around the NFL. In 2017, he took over a scandal-ridden program with a toxic culture that included dozens of allegations of sexual assaults and rape by Baylor football players, and turned the team into a national power in just three years.
Those who know him, though, believe he has always had his eyes on coaching again in the NFL, and as a New York City native the Giants have long held a special place in his heart. Many around the NFL believe the job will be Rhule's if he wants it, and that he wants it if the details are worked out.
The only question is whether the Giants can offer enough to lure him away. Money likely won't be an issue, but there could be other factors - especially if the Panthers offer him the chance to bring in an executive who will ultimately succeed their GM, Marty Hurney. Rhule isn't looking for control over personnel decisions, according to a source, but he will want a voice in those decisions.
The Giants have long operated with the GM having the final say over personnel decisions, though they attempt to make that a "collaborative" effort, as current GM Dave Gettleman said. However, Gettleman has expressed a willingness to cede some of his power to lure the right coach, if necessary -- and if that's what Giants ownership decides it wants.
Otherwise, there shouldn't be any obstacles. Rhule was a finalist for the Jets job last year and had a chance to get it before talks broke down over his choice of coordinators. The Jets were concerned about Rhule's lack of NFL experience and wanted a more experienced staff than he was willing to bring, a source said.
That is not believed to be an issue with the Giants, who seem willing to let Rhule -- or any coach -- bring along whichever assistants they choose.
If the Giants can't lure Rhule away from Baylor, their second choice appears to be former Packers coach Mike McCarthy. However, McCarthy has also drawn the interest of the Cowboys, who have been meeting with him over the last two days. If the Cowboys eventually decide to fire Garrett, McCarthy figures to be one of their top choices.
The rest of the Giants' pecking order likely starts with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who is expected to interview with the Giants early this week, even though multiple NFL sources have told SNY his desire for power could make him a bad fit. The Giants have also interviewed Cowboys passing game coordinator Kris Richard, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale, and they are planning to speak with Patriots special teams coach Joe Judge sometime this week.