When Rob Chudzinski took over play-calling duties for the Carolina Panthers in 2011, wide receiver Steve Smith enjoyed the wrinkles the playbook offered. By the end of Chudzinski's tenure last season, Smith was less enthralled.
In speaking with Seattle-area media on Wednesday in advance of Panthers-Seahawks on Sunday, Smith said that Chudzinski called plays last season with the idea that he wanted to score a head-coaching job. He did in fact land one, getting hired to run the Cleveland Browns this offseason.
"The prior offensive coordinator [Chudzinski] really was positioning himself to just apply for that head-coaching job," Smith said. "I think our offense suffered a little bit because of that.''
The Panthers' best strength has been running the football the past few seasons, and even Smith knows that, as good as he and Cam Newton have been at times. Newton was given too long a leash early last season, and the team started 2-8. When they got back to simplicity and running the ball, and less so with the read-option, the Panthers won five of their final six, likely helping head coach Ron Rivera keep his job and Chud getting an interview in Cleveland.
Smith appears to want to favor winning games over padding his own statistics at this point in his career.
"At times, we got cute," Smith said. "We did things that weren't necessarily us, like the under-utilizing of [running back] Mike Tolbert. But we're out of that. The past is the past."
Smith speaks his mind — no two ways around that. But that doesn't mean he's wrong. For those who know Smith, you can only accuse the man of saying exactly what he thinks. The results appear to back him up, too, and Smith is not the only one who would say what he said. He's just one of the few who would do so on the record in front of media and not think twice about it.
Replacing Chudzinski is Mike Shula, the former Alabama head coach who was the Panthers' quarterbacks coach last season. Smith likes what he sees so far.
"I think Coach Shula is going to change things up, and he has so far," Smith said. "He just does little different things. Some of it looks small, but we're focusing more on the details, and that's the difference."
Is Smith free to change his mind on Shula? Of course. But it's likely that Shula will be less cute, more open to playing to the offense's strengths and not coddling and catering to Newton than the predecessor. We'll see if that's enough for the Panthers to avoid another slow start this season.