At this time last season, the general consensus amongst the Carolina faithful was the retention of offensive coordinator Rob "Chud" Chudzinski. After all, he turned around a lethargic Carolina offense from being a bottom feeder in the league into a top-five unit.
What a difference a year makes.
The Panthers regressed offensively and dropped to 12th in total offense when the regular season ended last month. It appeared the coaching staff would be replaced, but in the end Ron Rivera, Sean McDermott and Chudzinski all found their jobs safe for 2013.
Chudzinski wasn't on any team's radar until he interviewed with the Cleveland Browns. It seemed that it was just a team exploring all of its options as Ken Whisenhunt seemed to be the front-runner for the head coaching job in Cleveland. That all changed with Chudzinski's hiring Thursday night.
Now, with the offseason still young for the Panthers, they have to address an open coaching vacancy that will maximize their offense's potential. While Chudzinski took a lot of heat about Cam Newton's slow start and the mismanagement of the running game (and the offense in general), he was able to simplify the playbook and make the most of Newton's strengths. His efforts paid off as he helped improve the offense and saw its overall ranking improve little by little.
Carolina has a few options they can explore immediately and there are four possible candidates they could be scheduling interviews in the near future. One such candidate could be in house.
Mike Shula has spent many years between the professional and college ranks as an assistant. He has been the quarterbacks coach for the Panthers since 2011. However, he is untested as an offensive coordinator. What works in his favor is the rapport he has established with Newton and his knowledge of the Carolina offense. Despite his status with the team, it may be unlikely he will be Rivera's or Dave Gettleman's first choice.
That means the Panthers will look into hiring an established veteran of the position.
There are three names that stand out, and former San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner could find himself interviewing with Carolina if he isn't hired for a head coaching job or Chudzinski hires him for his staff.
Turner brings a plethora of experience as an offensive coordinator and seemed to thrive in the position. He was instrumental in developing the Dallas Cowboys offense of the early 1990s, helped the Miami Dolphins to back-to-back winning seasons and led the San Francisco 49ers offense to a top-10 finish despite the team finishing below .500.
This seems like a long a shot for him being hired especially if he is pursued by other teams for a head coaching position or if he decides to be the offensive coordinator in Cleveland. There are a couple of factors that could play into Carolina's favor in order to land Turner. One is the development of the offense and the potential to be a lethal unit the current personnel represent.
Another factor is his familiarity with Rivera and their previous relationship out in San Diego. Of the candidates on this list, this one seems to be the most intriguing.
Another former head coach who could command some attention is Chan Gailey. The former Buffalo Bills head coach was the offensive coordinator with Denver, Pittsburgh, Miami and Kansas City. He offers experience and could be essential with improving an offense that is capable of passing and running the football.
Many saw what he could do with a healthy Bills unit but Ryan Fitzpatrick is no Cam Newton and despite sub par year for the running backs, they can rival C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. It seems that Gailey could be very creative with Carolina's offense and do things he couldn't do while in Buffalo. Hiring Gailey could be a great move by the Panthers, and it would add a tested coordinator to the mix.
With the recent dismissal of Mike Mularkey as Jacksonville's head coach, another candidate is in the mix. Like Turner and Gailey, Mularkey has experience and was the mastermind behind the Atlanta Falcons' offensive success in 2008 as the Falcons averaged 152 rushing yards per game and finished 10th in the league in scoring.
Much like with Atlanta, Mularkey would have the benefit of working with young players on the offense and could return the running game to the dominant force it was prior to 2011. DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert all have the potential to thrive under his watch and could keep the quarterback from leading the team in rushing and perhaps stay below 700 rushing yards.
There are other candidates out there who may be a better fit for the offensive coordinator position in Carolina. These coaches seem to be most likely to warrant an interview in the coming days as they all have something to offer. It's still early and anything can change, but don't expect the Panthers to wait too long to fill the position.