Can Fired NFL Coaches Just Sit Back and Collect Their Checks?

Published on October 11th, 2022 11:57 am EST
Written By: Dave Manuel

The King explains how contracts between NFL coaches and teams usually end. In early 2020, the Carolina Panthers signed Matt Rhule to a lucrative 7-year, $62 million head coaching contract.

Earlier this week, the Panthers elected to terminate Rhule as head coach, leaving roughly 4 years and $40 million left on his deal.

How much of this money will the Panthers end up paying?


To start, in the vast majority of cases, NFL head coaches are simply fired "without cause". This means that they simply weren't performing up to expectations. In the rare case of a coach being fired "with cause", the team will look to get out of paying the rest of the contract. "With cause" is only used in situations where a coach has done something inappropriate or even illegal (for instance, if a coach is arrested for a DUI, the team will usually look to fire "with cause").

In the case of Matt Rhule, the Panthers simply felt as though the team wasn't performing well enough, so he was fired.

Matt Rhule will get every dollar of the money that is owed to him.

The Carolina Panthers, however, might not have to pay all of that money.

Let's explain.

Fired NFL coaches have an obligation to "mitigate", meaning that they must actively try and find work after being fired.

This means that they aren't allowed to just sit on a couch for four years and collect their contract.

How is this enforced?

NFL teams have been known to actually hire private investigators to monitor if a fired coach is looking for a job or not. If the NFL team feels as though the fired coach isn't doing enough to try and find a new job, they can complain to the NFL and ask for an arbitration hearing.

This is obviously hard to prove.


What happens if a fired NFL coach finds another job?

If this happens, the team that fired him gets a dollar-for-dollar discount on the remaining amount of the contract. This applies even if the fired coach gets a job in college football.

So, let's say that Matt Rhule gets hired by a college football team, and this team will pay him $6 million per year.

This would be very good news for the Panthers, as they would receive a $6 million discount per year for the remaining four years of Rhule's contract.

So, instead of the Panthers needing to send Rhule $10 million per year, they would only need to send him $4 million ($10 million - $6 million).


Some NFL teams have used dirty tricks to try and keep their expenses down.

For instance, let's say that a wide receivers coach was making $200,000 per year and was fired with two years left on his deal.

There have been instances of NFL teams hiring the coach with a "discount", as the coach is already guaranteed $200,000 per year.

For instance, the cheap team will say - we'll pay you $50,000 per year. Well under the market rate, but you are getting $200,000 per year guaranteed for the next two years, so why not?

This is considered "dirty" by most NFL teams, but it happens. Again, teams can send these matters into arbitration.


This is how contracts are handled for fired NFL coaches.

If a coach had a particularly disgraceful exit, they might find themselves sitting on the couch for a while, though they will still get their money from their former NFL team.

Related Articles