A Defense Of Mike Shula As Offensive Coordinator

Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

Of course, everyone wanted Hue Jackson as the Panthers' offensive coordinator. But here's the deal: did Hue Jackson want the job under these conditions? Jackson isn't some young up and coming assistant. (Well he is relatively young at 47 but still.) Instead, he is a guy who has already been fired as an offensive coordinator in 2007 and fired as a head coach in 2011. Granted, his current job stinks (the assistant to the assistant for special teams and defensive backs) and offensive coordinator would be a step up, but it is not in his career interests to get fired from another offensive coordinator position again. Hue Jackson - and the other candidates - almost certainly wanted some sort of job security that the Panthers aren't willing to provide.

Ron Rivera is operating on a "playoffs or fired" for 2013, and would also likely lose his job even were they to make the playoffs in 2013 but miss it in 2014. And whoever replaces Rivera will likely want his own guy as OC. At the very least, Gettleman won't limit his choice of head coaches to whoever is willing to have Jackson as his OC. And looking at the Panthers roster - they aren't exactly the 49ers or Ravens - and their cap situation ... how many guys are willing to gamble their futures on the Panthers making the playoffs the next 2 seasons? That is why the Panthers were stuck. Hue Jackson - or any other top guy - is not going to come here under a "make the playoffs the next 2 seasons or else and do it with a suspect roster and terrible cap situation" environment.

And as far as Mike Shula goes, where does the notion that he is a bad offensive coordinator come from? Simple: his stint as the Tampa Bay Bucs coordinator from 1996 to 1999. It was a bum rap created mostly by the media. First off, the Bucs had Trent Dilfer at QB, and the media was convinced that Dilfer was going to be the next NFL star. (Remember ESPN's famously trashing the Colts for not taking him on draft day.) The Bucs also had a bunch of guys from FSU and Florida at WR and RB. And remember how the media used to worship the ground that Bobby Bowden and Steve Spurrier walked on in the 1990s. So when Shula was unable to turn the likes of Trent Dilfer, Warrick Dunn, Reidel Anthony, Jacquez Green etc. into a high-powered offense (and did I mention that the offensive line was terrible too?) the media decided that the problem was Shula's scheme and playcalling, and not the possibility that Dilfer and the Bowden/Spurrier products (whom the Bucs of that era drafted to sell tickets to local FSU and Florida fans, not because of merit) were overrated.

But what happened when Shula was pressured out and replaced with another coordinator ... did the offense improve? Nope. What happened when Dilfer and company went to other teams with different coordinators and systems ... did they blossom? No way. (Yes, Dilfer "led Baltimore to a Super Bowl", but by passing for 150 yards a game. That team was Jamal Lewis and Priest Holmes running the ball and that great defense. Dilfer never reached 2900 yards passing in a single season, and his best years - 1996 when he passed for the most yards of his career and 1997 when he had his highest QB rating and went to his only Pro Bowl) were when Mike Shula was his offensive coordinator!

Warrick Dunn? With both the Bucs and Falcons was the most inconsequential 10,000 yard rusher ever. He frequently averaged less than 4 yards per carry, and could not break tackles or move the pile. The receivers, including the aforementioned Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green plus one of the biggest free agent busts of all time, Alvin Harper? Please.

Jon Gruden won a Super Bowl in Tampa, but only after cleaning house of Dilfer plus the FSU/Florida jobs programs and getting in RBs and WRs that could actually play (like WRs Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius to go along with Keyshawn Johnson whom the Bucs picked up after Shula was already gone, plus RB Michael Pittman, who unlike Dunn could actually convert 3rd and shorts). And even then, the defense did most of the work, not the offense. Who knows what Shula could have accomplished with a talented - or even competent - offensive team, which he never had either in Tampa Bay or at Alabama as a college coach, which was being crushed with NCAA sanctions while he was there.

Consider the benefits of Shula. First off, he is a former college QB and longtime QB coach (in addition to being a TE coach, Greg Olsen fans!), which means that he knows the passing game. Second, he is a holdover from the "old school" NFL that was much more run-oriented, which means that he won't criminally underutilize DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart like Rob Chudzinki did. Unlike Chudzinki, who was more concerned with marketing himself as an NFL head coach than calling plays to win games and as a result had no interest in simply handing off to Williams and Stewart all the time (in this he was similar to John Gruden did when he was the Eagles OC back in the day ... Gruden was more interested in showing himself off by throwing the ball than by running Rickey Watters to win games), Shula will know that winning games is the key to his keeping his job in the short term and getting his career back untracked in the long term. So, the days of Cam Newton getting almost 5000 yards passing and rushing a season are over, but so are the days of the Panthers narrowly losing because their 2 1000 yard rushers only getting 6 carries for -1 yard (the Tampa Bay game), 10 carries for 22 yards (the Seattle game) or 12 carries for 39 yards (the Dallas game).

And that is the main difference between Newton and the other zone-read QBs like Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III. It wasn't the offensive lines: the Redskins' line was horrible. It wasn't WRs ... Seattles WRs are mediocre. Instead, it was that those teams actually used their tailbacks. Marshawn Lynch: 1950 yards. Alfred Morris: 1619 yards. (And please, no claims that Morris, a 6th round pick from a small losing college program who is 215 lbs. and runs a 4.65 40 has more physical ability than either Williams or Stewart.) Frank Gore? 1200 yards plus spelled by Kendall Hunter to the tune of 371. So, do you think that Shula is going to keep this up in 2013 knowing that the result will be his getting fired and his last shot at being an offensive coordinator, let alone a head coach, being gone?

Considering the circumstances, which includes his knowledge of Newton and the rest of the personnel, this was a good, solid hire. The main downside is that Newton is losing the QB coach that helped him pass for nearly 8000 yards his first 2 years, which is by far an NFL record. (Granted, Shula will continue as the QB coach, but still, he won't be totally dedicated to the position as he was before.) But if the staff can get through the 2013 season, maybe that will be addressed in 2014.

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