Tom Sorensen

Why would you fire the most dynamic offensive coordinator in Panthers history?

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Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton bristles at a question during his weekly press conference and abruptly walks out.
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Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton bristles at a question during his weekly press conference and abruptly walks out.

The most celebrated offensive coordinators in Carolina Panther history are those that spent the least time here. They got out before fans got after them.

Rob Chudzinski was Carolina’s offensive coordinator from 2011-2012, and became head coach for the Cleveland Browns in 2013. At the time it was considered a promotion. He lasted a season in Cleveland and is now offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts.

Chudzinski was the most innovative offensive coordinator the Panthers ever had. He took chances, and for a long time fans loved him for it. But many of those chances failed, and there was a faction (not player-led) in the organization that wanted him out before the 2012 season ended.

Head coaches get time. Defensive coordinators get a break provided they blitz. Offensive coordinators get nothing. They need to produce this season, this game, this drive.

Offensive coordinator is the toughest job in Charlotte sports. Major League Soccer is not coming to Charlotte. Blame Panthers’ offensive coordinator Mike Shula (or credit defensive coordinator Steve Wilks). Charlotte almost certainly will not land Amazon. Blame offensive coordinator Mike Shula. The Panthers are limited. Blame offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

A major fallacy is that the offensive coordinator goes out and fashions an offense and an offensive philosophy. He works within the framework the head coach sets.

I have reservations about Shula. We all know what the Panthers want to do. They want to run. Opponents know this, too. If you go to the Carolina-Tampa Bay game Sunday, train your binoculars on the Buccaneers’ defense. They check their watches as they wait for running backs Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey.

If the conventional doesn’t work, and it doesn’t, try the unconventional. Shula will, but only in spurts. He always returns to default mode, which is run, Panthers, run.

But when you have a team that: struggles to throw long; inconsistently throws short and intermediate passes; can’t run; can’t protect the quarterback; and has a quarterback who holds the ball too long because he strongly believes good things will happen when he does, it is not all the fault of the offensive coordinator.

If I’m Shula, I commit to Curtis Samuel. I don’t do this because he’s a second-round pick and second-round picks should play. I do this because the skill he offers is singular with this group of receivers. He has 4.3 speed. I send him deep and if

an opponent covers him with one defender, I attempt to exploit it.

By throwing long adult forward passes, I at least put the offense in position to derive the benefits a long completion confers.

The Panthers have had nine offensive coordinators. How many can you name?

Yeah, right.

They are Joe Pendry (1995-97), Gil Haskell (1998-99), Bill Musgrave (2000), Richard Williamson (also assistant head coach) 2001, Dan Henning (2002-06), Jeff Davidson (2007-10), Chudzinski (2011-12) and Shula (2013-17).

The most effective of them was Henning. He lived in a Marriott, so every sportswriter was in awe. Upon meeting him we all said the same thing: “Nice to meet you. How many Marriott points do you have?”

Henning, now 75, was smart and subtly innovative and his offense was utterly alive. He finished his career with the Miami Dolphins, where he worked for and with his friend Bill Parcells.

Henning was perceived to have worn out in Carolina, and head coach John Fox jettisoned him.

Fans were thrilled when Fox did.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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