A six-day span that began with a Saturday morning meeting between Panthers coach Ron Rivera and owner Jerry Richardson ended with the team’s former offensive coordinator sitting at a podium in Cleveland wearing a new orange tie.
When the doors of the Bank of America Stadium offices finally were locked for the weekend, the Panthers had retained their coach, hired a general manager, fired three assistants and watched Rob Chudzinski bolt for the Browns.
Other than that, just a slow week in January.
Rivera and new general manager Dave Gettleman have five assistant coaching spots open, though at least one is expected to be filled in-house.
But the first priority has to be finding a replacement for Chudzinski, whose departure shook a franchise that seemed stable a week ago when Richardson announced Rivera would keep his job.
The bad news for the Panthers is their top target – former Chargers coach Norv Turner – is expected to join Chudzinski in Cleveland. The good news: There are several other former head coaches with offensive backgrounds looking for work.
The Panthers are expected to consider Pat Shurmur, Mike Mularkey and Ken Whisenhunt, a league source told The Observer. The Panthers also plan to interview Cincinnati assistant coach Hue Jackson, the Oakland Raiders’ former coach.
Whisenhunt, who was fired in Arizona, is expected to meet with San Diego about its head-coaching vacancy, and the other candidates on the Panthers’ list also figure to exhaust their head-coaching opportunities before considering a coordinator’s role.
In a statement to The Observer, Rivera wished Chudzinski well and said the Panthers have begun looking for his successor.
“We wish Chud the very best and appreciate the great job he did here in laying a foundation for our offense,” Rivera said in the statement. “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 and there is no specific timetable.”
The Panthers are expected to start bringing candidates in next week when Gettleman moves to Charlotte and begins his duties.
Shurmur, 48, fired after going 9-23 in two seasons in Cleveland, worked with Rivera for five seasons on Andy Reid’s staff in Philadelphia. His success with quarterback Sam Bradford as St. Louis’ offensive coordinator helped him land the Cleveland job, although there are questions about whether his West Coast offense would fit the Panthers’ personnel.
In an interview with the Akron Beacon Journal at the scouting combine two years ago, Shurmur said the West Coast passing attack “really banks on accuracy, so you can get it to the receivers, so they can run with it.”
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s completion percentage went down in his second season, and he said he wants to improve his passing accuracy next season.
If Shurmur gets the job, it would almost certainly be with the understanding that he overhaul or scrap his West Coast scheme in favor of a scheme that takes full advantage of Newton’s unique skill set.
Chudzinski combined a zone-read rushing attack with a vertical stretch passing game to post the two best offensive seasons in Panthers history in terms of total yards and first downs.
The Panthers will look to make the transition as seamless as possible for Newton, who worked in four offensive systems in a four-year span that included his final three college seasons and his rookie year with the Panthers.
As such, Rivera will consider quarterbacks coach Mike Shula for the coordinator’s post. Shula, the former Alabama head coach who ran Tampa Bay’s offense from 1996-99, has worked well with Newton without receiving much acclaim.
Panthers offensive quality control coach Scott Turner, Norv’s son, also will go with Chudzinski to Cleveland, sources said. That leaves Rivera with five openings on the offensive side, although assistant receivers coach Ricky Proehl is expected to take over for fired receivers coach Fred Graves.
The Panthers have interviewed Chicago Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub, who is drawing interest from other teams. Rivera could make Richard Rodgers, who ran the special teams after Brian Murphy was fired in November, the special teams coordinator.
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