CAROLINA PANTHERS

Carolina Panthers prepare to fill slew of openings

Emphasis is on finding innovative offensive mind to guide Newton

The Charlotte ObserverJanuary 12, 2013 

Browns Chudzinski Football

New Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski laughs at a joke by owner Jimmy Haslam during a news conferencing introducing Chudzinski at the NFL football team's practice facility in Berea, Ohio Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

MARK DUNCAN — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

— 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 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, it’s been 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 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.

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.

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 advantage of Newton’s 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.

Rivera will consider quarterbacks coach Mike Shula for the coordinator’s post. Shula, the former Alabama 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.

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