With the Thursday-night news that Rob Chudzinski will coach the Cleveland Browns next season, Carolina Panther head coach Ron Rivera has a very big decision to make. He needs a new offensive coordinator – someone who can shepherd the development of Cam Newton, manage the volatility of Steve Smith and figure out how to get all those running backs the right number of carries.
Unless Rivera can land a really big fish, however -- and it sounds like Norv Turner is going to join Chud in Cleveland -- the correct choice is already right in front of him: Mike Shula.
Shula, the Panthers’ current quarterbacks coach, knows Newton better than anyone left on the current staff. He has been an NFL offensive coordinator already (at Tampa Bay) and a college head coach and quarterback (at Alabama).
I’m not recommending Shula because of his famous father. Don Shula was a hall of famer and one of the all-time greats, but he has nothing to do with this. Mike Shula has done well on his own in Charlotte, and he’s ready for this promotion.
Plus, the Panthers could use some continuity on the coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Rivera just fired the running backs coach and the wide receivers coach this week, so those jobs are about to turn over. Now Chudzinski – quite suddenly – is gone.
Shula is a calming and thoughtful presence on the sideline who was originally hired on Chudzinski’s recommendation (and because he has long had a reputation for nurturing young quarterbacks). I asked Shula once if he was satisfied being a quarterbacks coach with Carolina, since he has been on bigger stages many times before.
“I’ve said for the last 15 years,” Shula says, “that as long as I’m around the QBs, I really don’t care if I’m quarterbacks coach or the coordinator or the head coach. I played the position, and there’s something about coaching it that is so challenging and exciting.”
Well, he can still be around the QBs if he gets this promotion. But unless Rivera has someone like Ken Whisenhunt stashed in his back pocket as a backup plan or the reports are wrong on Turner going to Ohio – then I think Shula is the logical next step for Carolina.