The most eventful week in recent Panthers' history took an unexpected turn Thursday night when offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was hired as the Cleveland Browns' head coach.
Five days after Panthers owner Jerry Richardson decided to keep coach Ron Rivera in a move that seemed to stabilize things for the franchise, the Panthers were jolted by the news that Chudzinski is leaving to take over the reins of his home-state Browns.
Chudzinski, 44, was passed over for three head-coaching jobs last year with Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and St. Louis. He received a contract extension and a raise and stayed in Charlotte, where he led the Panthers to one of the most prolific offensive seasons in team history in 2011.
Attempts to reach Chudzinski on Thursday were unsuccessful.
The coach known as Chud is expected to take Panthers offensive quality control coach Scott Turner with him to Cleveland. Turner is the son of former San Diego coach Norv Turner, who could be in a tug-of-war among multiple teams vying for his services, including the Panthers.
There was at least one published report Thursday linking Norv Turner to the Browns. But Chudzinski took great pride in his play-calling during his two years with Carolina and would not part with play-calling duties easily.
Like Chudzinski, Rivera worked for Turner in San Diego and the two remain close. If Rivera is unable to hire Turner as his offensive coordinator, Rivera could promote quarterbacks coach Mike Shula.
Shula had an unremarkable four-year stint as Tampa Bays offensive coordinator from 1996-99. But he has been praised for his work with quarterback Cam Newton, who showed improvement as a decision-maker in 2012 after winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors the previous season.
After drawing the head-coaching interest last offseason, Chudzinski was criticized early this season when the Panthers scored 14 points or fewer in four of their first six games. But Chudzinski streamlined his zone-read package, eliminating some of the extraneous, wide receiver motions, and the Panthers improved over the second half of the season.
The Panthers finished 7th and 12th in total offense in two years under Chudzinski, a former University of Miami tight end who was the Hurricanes offensive coordinator when they won the national championship in 2001.
In Chudzinskis first season, the Panthers led the league with 90 plays of 20 yards or more and scored 48 touchdowns after scoring a franchise-low 17 touchdowns in 2010. The Panthers broke team records with 6,237 total yards and 345 first downs in 2011, and posted the second-best marks in both categories this past season.
Chudzinskis departure leaves Rivera and new general manager Dave Gettleman, who was hired Wednesday, with five assistant coaching vacancies. Rivera fired special teams coordinator Brian Murphy in November, and let three assistants go this week running backs coach John Settle, receivers coach Fred Graves and linebackers coach Warren Belin.
Chudzinski, who was a Browns fan while growing up in Toledo, had two stints in Cleveland as an assistant coach.
Chudzinski was the Browns tight ends coach in 2004 before Butch Davis and his staff were fired. After spending two years as San Diegos tight ends coach, he returned to Cleveland as the offensive coordinator under Romeo Crennel.
The Browns finished 10-6 in 2007, ranked eighth in total offense and had four Pro Bowl players, including quarterback Derek Anderson, now the backup to Newton in Charlotte.
But injuries to Anderson and other starters the following year contributed to a 4-12 record that cost Crennel his job. Chudzinski again went back to San Diego, where he worked with Rivera on Turners staff.
Panthers scout Ken Dorsey, a Browns quarterback when Chudzinski coached there, also could be among the Carolina staffers who go with Chudzinski to Cleveland.
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