By JOSEPH PERSON
The Panthers didn’t have to look far to find their replacement for offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
He was right down the hall.
Quarterbacks coach Mike Shula, who will take over for Chudzinski as the offensive play-caller, was one of three Panthers’ assistants promoted to bigger roles Friday. Assistant receivers coach Ricky Proehl will take over for fired receivers coach Fred Graves, and interim special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers had the “interim” removed from his title.
The Panthers are bringing back former running backs coach Jim Skipper, an assistant for all of John Fox’s nine seasons. Skipper accepted the job after Panthers coach Ron Rivera cited continuity in elevating Shula, who has worked closely with quarterback Cam Newton for two seasons and has an intimate knowledge of an offense that ranked seventh and 12th in the NFL during Chudzinski’s two seasons.
But skeptics would question whether the internal hires reflected a wariness among outside candidates about working for a coach on shaky ground after back-to-back losing seasons. Rivera, 13-19 in his first head-coaching job, waited a week after the season ended before owner Jerry Richardson told him he would be back in 2013.
Shula, 47, was one of three offensive coordinator candidates to interview with Rivera and new general manager Dave Gettleman, who replaced Marty Hurney last week. The Panthers also talked to former Browns coach Pat Shurmur and Cincinnati assistant coach Hue Jackson, the former Oakland coach.
Sources close to Shurmur and Jackson indicated both men would have taken the job if offered.
Promoting Shula allows the Panthers to continue running at least a version of the offense installed by Chudzinski – a mix of a vertical passing attack and a zone-read package that takes advantage of Newton’s running ability.
“After going through the interview process, we feel that Mike’s familiarity with our offense and personnel lends itself to the offensive coordinator position,” Rivera said in a statement released by the team. “He has the experience and knowledge to step in and provide continuity in an area that has been productive over the past two years.”
Shula, the son of Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, said he was pleased to become a coordinator for the second time in his 21-year career as an NFL assistant.
“I am excited about working with our offense in a more expanded role as offensive coordinator,” Shula said in the release. “There are a number of pieces in place for a good offense and our goal is to build on the momentum we had at the end of last season.”
The release did not specify whether Shula would continue to coach quarterbacks.
Despite Newton’s success, Shula has flown under the radar for most of his first two years in Charlotte while Chudzinski received the praise – and criticism – for the offense’s direction. But Rivera often has talked about the positive chemistry in the quarterbacks meeting room.
Newton passed for more yards in his first two seasons than any quarterback in NFL history. He also ran for 741 yards last season to become the first quarterback to lead his team in rushing since Donovan McNabb in 2000.
Shula, a former Alabama quarterback who coached the Crimson Tide from 2003-06, struggled in his previous stint as an offensive coordinator. With Shula running Tampa Bay’s offense from 1996-99, the Buccaneers never finished higher than 22nd in total offense.
When the Bucs advanced to the NFC championship game in 1999, Shula’s offense – with Shaun King at quarterback – was 28th.
But Shula has coached three Pro Bowl quarterbacks – Newton, Trent Dilfer in Tampa and David Garrard in Jacksonville.
Rodgers, hired last year as assistant special teams coach, took over the unit in November after Brian Murphy was fired. The Panthers’ coverage teams were improved; they finished 11th in kickoff coverage.
Rivera, Rodgers’ teammate at Cal, said: “Richard did a great job of stepping in last season and we want to build upon the foundation that he established in the second half of last season.”
Proehl, who played three of his 17 NFL seasons with the Panthers, assisted Graves the past two seasons. Rodgers and Proehl have good relationships with players, as does Skipper.
Panthers running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams both posted congratulatory tweets Friday about Skipper, who spent the past two seasons with the Tennesse Titans.