Losing OC Rob Chudzinski a Blessing in Disguise for Carolina Panthers

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenNFC South Lead WriterJanuary 11, 2013

CHARLOTTE, NC - CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by the NFL,  Rob Chudzinski of the Carolina Panthers poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
Handout/Getty Images

The decision-making processes that have been occurring in Charlotte, N.C. over the past few weeks in the Carolina Panthers’ front office have been nothing short of ass-backwards.

I’m not saying the decisions to retain Ron Rivera as head coach or hire Dave Gettleman as general manager were poor—in fact I definitely agree with Rivera and it’s too soon to tell with Gettleman—they just weren’t made in the proper order.

Team owner Jerry Richardson met with Rivera on Jan. 5 and announced to the world that Rivera would remain with the team for the 2013 season. Four days later the Panthers announced Gettleman’s hiring.

Typically, the new general manager gets to make the decision on whether or not a head coach stays, particularly when the decision on Rivera wasn’t an easy one. At the least, Richardson could have waited until he hired Gettleman and then told Gettleman he was keeping Rivera. That would have at least given the public the illusion that Gettleman had the proper amount of power his job title should convey.

Then, out of the blue, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was hired as the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported late Thursday.

No new general manager wants to step into a job and have a bombshell dropped on him like this. But when the dust settles and Gettleman and Rivera sit down to talk, they might decide Chudzinski relocating to Cleveland is good for the Panthers.

Chudzinski gets much of the credit for the early success of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who threw for 4,051 yards in his rookie season of 2011 and tossed 21 touchdowns while running for 14 more. He gets too much credit, in my opinion.

If Chudzinski cashed the Cam Newton check to get the head coaching job in Cleveland, well that’s a smart move by him. But he may have sold the Browns a deceiving bill of goods. The real Chudzinski had issues in 2012, serious problems that may have been masked by the success of his quarterback in 2011.

It’s true that Newton broke just about every rookie quarterback record the league tracks. It’s also the case that Chudzinski helped power the seventh-ranked offense in the league in 2011 and the 12th-best in 2012.

But Chudzinski, along with Rivera, was grossly responsible for mismanaging Carolina’s stable of running backs early in the 2012 season. Instead of basing the Panthers offense on the power of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, the offense rarely used the trio to its full potential.

Only once in Carolina’s first three games did their running back corps combine for 20 or more carries. Not surprisingly, it’s the one game the Panthers won.

I also believe that Chudzinski relied more on Newton’s unbelievable physical gifts instead of developing the young quarterback as quickly as possible.

Why was it Week 12 of Newton’s second season before we heard that Newton was making strides calling plays at the line of scrimmage?

The Charlotte Observer reported that even though Rivera felt Newton was “right where you want a second-year quarterback to be” the quarterback was only then taking two plays to the line of scrimmage and using audibles. Twenty-seven games into a professional career seems a bit high to finally give Newton more options at the line.

Giving Newton the ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage wasn’t Chudzinski’s only alteration of the offense in 2012. After failing to reach 20 points in a game five times in Carolina’s first nine games, Chudzinski started fiddling with the read-option and pared down the intricacies of the play book. The Panthers won five of their next seven games.

But it still took nine games—seven losses—to push Chudzinski, who’s famous for wanting total play-calling control of the offense, into making the necessary and obviously correct changes.

Carolina will be better off with an offensive coordinator that’s better at adapting a playbook to the talents on the roster and making changes quicker to obstacles that arise.

Will the Panthers stay in-house with quarterbacks coach Mike Shula, or will they make a run at recently-fired Chargers' head coach Norv Turner, who Rivera coached under in San Diego? There may also be some choices on the mind of the new general manager from his personal connects.

Wouldn’t it be nice to let Gettleman actually do his job and make a decision?


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.