Cam Newton and the Panthers offense are once again in limbo following the departure of offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
Last year marked the first time Newton worked with the same coordinator in back-to-back seasons since high school and the second-year quarterback improved as the season progressed. But with Chudzinski being introduced Friday as the Cleveland Browns new head coach, the direction of the Panthers’ offense is unclear.
Coach Ron Rivera declined interview requests Friday, saying in a statement “there’s no timetable” to name Chudzinski’s replacement.
“We wish Chud the very best and appreciate the great job he did here in laying a foundation for our offense,” Rivera said. “We are in the process of filling staff positions now and will continue to work through that in the coming days. Our goal is to identify the best candidates.”
Rivera fired two offensive assistants Tuesday leaving quarterbacks coach Mike Shula as the only staff member with previous experience as an offensive coordinator.
However, Shula struggled in that role with Tampa Bay from 1996-99 and the Panthers could look outside the organization for a replacement. During Shula’s four seasons with the Bucs they were 27th in the NFL in points scored, 29th in total yards and last in passing offense, according to STATS INC.
The Bucs never finished better than 22nd in total offense during his four seasons with Tampa Bay, meaning the Panthers could look outside the organization for a replacement.
Among the notable offensive coordinators looking for work are Hue Jackson, Pat Shurmur, Cam Cameron, Chan Gailey and Norv Turner, who was Rivera’s former boss in San Diego.
Regardless of who replaces Chudzinski it will certainly represent an adjustment for Newton, Carolina’s franchise quarterback.
Newton could not be reached for comment on Friday, but backup Derek Anderson, who played two seasons under Chudzinski in Cleveland and two more in Carolina, said there is no sugarcoating the fact Chudzinski’s departure definitely hurts the Panthers, who finished the season strong by winning five of six games.
“It (stinks) for our team because I feel we made strides toward the end of the season,” Anderson said. “Learning how to win isn’t easy.”
Still, veteran offensive tackle Jordan Gross believes Newton will be fine.
“If Chud had left last year after Cam’s rookie season I might have felt different,” Gross said. “But I think Cam has grown so much as a player and matured so much in the last year that I think he’ll be fine no matter who is calling the shots.”
For the most part Newton has played well under Chudzinski’s tutelage.
Chudzinski inherited an offense that finished last in the league in total offense, points scored and yards passing in 2010 and the Panthers made dramatic improvements in their first year with the rookie Newton at the helm. Despite losing a good portion of the offseason to the NFL lockout, the Panthers finished 2011 seventh in total offense and fifth in points scored.
This past season the offense started slow and the Panthers started the season 1-5, costing them any realistic shot at the playoffs.
However, Chudzinski simplified the playbook midway through the year and the offense rebounded strong in the second half of the season finishing 12th in total offense.
In two seasons Newton has thrown for 7,920 yards and 40 touchdowns and run for 22 scores. He has turned the ball over 32 times.
Gross believes the Panthers have the talent to move on without missing a beat.
“One thing I’ve learned in 10 seasons is that an organization is never about one person, whether it’s player or coach,” Gross said. “I know we have ability to win with who is here. I still think we have a good staff here.”
Albeit a shrinking one.
Rivera fired running backs coach John Settle and receivers coach Fred Graves and Chudzinski could try to take his right hand man and close friend, offensive quality control coach Scott Turner, with him to Cleveland.
According to Panthers spokesman Charlie Dayton, Rivera doesn’t want to comment until next week because he’s busy filling out his staff.
Along with having to make three hires on offense, Rivera still must replace linebackers coach Warren Belin. He could also opt to hire a replacement for interim special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers, who put in charge midway through last season after Rivera fired special teams coordinator Brian Murphy.
It’s already been a busy offseason for the Panthers.
Owner Jerry Richardson ended the coaching drama when he elected to retain Rivera as the team’s coach after letting him twist in the wind for a week. On Wednesday Richardson ended a three-month long search for a GM by hiring Dave Gettleman to replace Marty Hurney.