Christian McCaffrey is coming off the best season of his career, and he believes the changes in Carolina will lead to even more success in 2020 and beyond.
McCaffrey, who partnered with USAA and the Marine Corps Association and Foundation (MCA&F) to give an active military member two Super Bowl tickets on Jan. 22, will have a new coach in Matt Rhule and a new offensive coordinator in Joe Brady. McCaffrey is hoping that leads to improved results if quarterback Cam Newton returns in 2020.
McCaffrey led the NFL with 2,392 all-purpose yards in 2018, and he joined Roger Craig (1985) and Marshall Faulk (1999) as just the third player to total at least 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. The Panthers, however, are 23-25 in that stretch, and they replaced Ron Rivera, who was fired in early December, with Baylor coach Matt Rhule this offseason.
Semper Fi SgtMaj Luis Leiva at Camp Lejeune! Thank you for nearly 30 years of service to our country and being part of the best defensive team I've ever seen. Proud to present 2 tix to #SBLIV on behalf of @USAA & @MCA_Marines. #SaluteToService pic.twitter.com/so8jqkAb0R— Christian McCaffrey (@CMC_22) January 22, 2020
McCaffrey said his offseason strength coaches and Baylor players reached out to him after the hire. McCaffrey watched Rhule’s press conference, and it confirmed those reports.
"He said everything anyone wanted to hear," McCaffrey told Sporting News. "His past and his resume speaks for itself. He took two 1-11 teams and turned them into 10-win seasons at schools where, we'll call it for what it is, difficult to do at the time, especially with Baylor with what was going on there. I'm excited to have him on board."
McCaffrey shared the same sentiment with new offensive coordinator Joe Brady, the former Saints passing game coordinator who helped renovate LSU’s offense in 2019. The Tigers won the College Football Playoff championship game in a 42-25 victory against Clemson, and McCaffrey is excited about working within that scheme.
"There is the pro-style offense, there is the spread offense and there are coaches who bring out the best in their players," McCaffrey said. "I think Coach Brady has a great ability to do that, and you saw that with this year's team.
"He uses his players and puts them into position to succeed," McCaffrey said. "For whatever reason, that's harder than it sounds. He's going to know how to use us in the best way possible. That's what I'm most excited about."
The only other question concerns the team's quarterback situation. Former No. 1 pick Cam Newton played in just two games last season and has battled foot and shoulder injuries over the past three seasons. Newton will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021.
"As of now, Cam is on our team," McCaffrey said. "For me, that's my guy. I've been fortunate enough to play with him for three years. Unfortunately, he's had to deal with some injuries. When Cam is healthy and at his best, he's an unbelievably fun guy to play with."
McCaffrey believes that structure and a newfound approach will help the Panthers in the long term.
"You look at the San Francisco 49ers, a couple years ago they were among the worst teams for three years in a row," McCaffrey said. "They're playing for a Super Bowl now. It's having trust in the plan and confidence in the leadership of the team. If you have that, then good things are going to happen."
McCaffrey teamed up with USAA and MCA&F to award a Super Bowl trip to Sgt. Maj. Luis "Chino" Leiva and a guest. Leiva joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1990 and has been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan during his time in the military. McCaffrey will meet Leiva and other military members in USAA’s Salute to Service Loung on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 in Miami.
"It's a very small thing to do, but it's something hopefully in the future we can do more for not just one but more people," McCaffrey said. "I get to meet veterans and active-duty members. Being able to pick their brains and see where their head is at and translate it to what I do is something very fun for me."