Panthers fans were stunned when the Browns stole their offensive coordinator, Rob Chudzinski, to be the head coach in Cleveland. "Stunned" probably isn't the best word to describe how folks feel about the promotion of Mike Shula to offensive coordinator.
Despite skepticism from various corners about Shula's ability to run an offense, he's getting props from inside the organization, specifically from fullback Mike Tolbert, who thinks Shula's ascension is particularly big for Cam Newton.
"I like it. I like it a lot, actually," Tolbert told the Charlotte Observer. "I think it's good for us as an offense. Shula is a good coach. He's done it before. And it's big for Cam not having to start new, start over. It's a good transition for Cam."
The reason for concern with Shula is that he doesn't have a recent history of running an offense: The last time he was an offensive coordinator was with the Buccaneers from 1996 to 1999.
And a quick glance at where his offenses ranked during that period will give any Panthers fan pause -- Tampa Bay never finished higher than 27th in total passing yards and 18th in total points scored. But current NBC Sports analyst and former Bucs quarterback Shaun King, who went 4-1 under Shula in 1999, thinks that Shula got a raw deal because of the personnel around him.
"He didn't have Pro Bowlers across the board to put them in positions to win,” King told the Observer. "Trent (Dilfer) really struggled early in his career. He had been criticized mightily by the home fan base in Tampa. He wasn't in a position to be a leader per se. There was still some of that, 'We don't fully believe in Trent,' and that's hard for a coordinator."
In Newton, Shula's got a much more talented quarterback than he ever had in Tampa Bay. And King believe Shula's ability to communicate with Newton -- an area where "he excels" -- will be critical.
"Shula knows what he's doing,” King said. "His communication with Cam is going to be very important, and that's where he excels. It's about exuding confidence when it comes to interacting with your quarterback."
There will be plenty of scrutiny on Shula in 2013. The Panthers finished 7-9 in 2012 and Ron Rivera managed to maintain his job. But a lack of improvement next year could spell the end of his tenure in Carolina.
And the success of 2013 probably hinges most on whether or not Newton and the offense continue to grow and show some consistency over the course of the season. And that means much of the future for the current Panthers regime might end up on the shoulders of Shula.