Rob Chudzinski won’t be headed to the Super Bowl this week.
The Indianapolis Colts’ offensive coordinator has too much offseason work to do to fly to Santa Clara.
But the former Carolina Panthers’ assistant will watch the game from Indy, keeping a close eye on the quarterback and soon-to-be MVP whom Chudzinski helped develop.
The coach known as “Chud” made it clear at the start of a phone interview Saturday that the people who deserve the credit for Cam Newton’s ascension still have offices at Bank of America Stadium.
But as the Panthers’ offensive coordinator when the team drafted Newton and for his first two seasons, Chudzinski was part of a group that assembled a plan for turning Newton from a spread-offense athlete into a complete NFL quarterback.
The work began before the Panthers drafted Newton in 2011. Former general manager Marty Hurney, coach Ron Rivera and Chudzinski wanted to make sure Newton was a fit in terms of character and ability before they invested the No. 1 pick on him.
Chudzinski said it was quickly apparent that Newton possessed the arm strength and football IQ to run a pro-style offense. But that wasn’t all the Panthers were looking for from Newton, who’d won a national title and the Heisman Trophy during his only season at Auburn.
The plan was to pair a traditional offense with spread-offense elements to take full advantage of Newton’s strengths.
“We felt he could become the franchise quarterback and throw the ball and develop as a passer and also that we could incorporate some of the other things to blend them together,” Chudzinski said. “I give credit to Marty Hurney and Ron for looking at this thing outside the box. There were a lot of people that thought neither of those two things could happen.”
The Panthers wanted Newton to play immediately to give him full immersion in the offense rather than have him sit for a season behind Derek Anderson.
But no one could have seen what would happen in his first two games: Back-to-back 400-yard passing performances against Arizona and Green Bay that remain the only 400-yard games of Newton’s career.
“I think what that did was cement to us that he could be a passer. That he could win games throwing the ball as well, and that he had a special ability to rise to the occasion,” Chudzinski said. “He’s a gamer. You’re talking about a rookie quarterback coming in and doing that right away, there was no stage too big for him.”
Newton wound up breaking Peyton Manning’s rookie passing record (later broken by Andrew Luck). But he also rushed for more than 700 yards his first two seasons as the Panthers became the first team to bring the zone read to the NFL, a read-option wrinkle that Newton ran at Auburn.
Soon other teams followed to try to maximize the dual-threat abilities of quarterbacks such as Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick.
“All those things came after Cam and what Cam introduced and blending that offense with a traditional NFL offense,” Chudzinski said. “There were a ton of people saying you shouldn’t draft Cam and a lot of people were saying you can’t do that stuff in the NFL. Obviously those people were wrong.”
Chudzinski, who left Carolina to become the Browns coach in 2013, said the Panthers staff wrestled initially with determining how often to run Newton.
He said current offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey have found the right balance for Newton, who set career highs this season with 35 touchdown passes and a 99.2 quarterback rating while throwing a career-low 10 interceptions.
“They’re the reason they’re going to the Super Bowl,” Chudzinski said. “All this was a vision five years ago. But these guys have made the vision come true.”