Bill Feig, Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jacksonville has contacted the Panthers for permission to interview Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski for the Jaguars' vacant head coaching job, a person familiar with the negotiations said on Monday.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because neither team had publicly announced Jacksonville's request.
Chudzinski's future is the biggest issue facing the upstart Panthers (6-10) as they enter the offseason.
With 20 of 22 projected starters and 57 players in all under contract next season, the Panthers have very few key personnel issues to iron out. But losing Chudzinski could be a huge loss given the team's impressive turnaround on offense.
The Panthers went from last in the league in total offense in 2010 to being ranked in the top five for almost the entire year. They finished seventh overall after a poor showing in the season finale against the Saints, but still set a franchise record with 6,237 yards. The Panthers scored 47 touchdowns this year on offense this year — up from 16 last season — after selecting quarterback Cam Newton with the No. 1 pick.
The Jaguars fired Jack Del Rio earlier this season and replaced him with interim coach Mel Tucker but are considering outside candidates.
Chudzinski would appear to be a solid replacement given how well he's done in Carolina in mentoring rookie Newton, who became the first quarterback ever to throw for 4,000 yards and run for 500 yards in the same season. The Jaguars are building their future around another talented first-round draft pick in Blaine Gabbert.
Wide receiver Steve Smith said he spoke with Chudzinski on Monday at Bank of America Stadium before his exit interview with the coaching staff.
"As far as what his next move is, I'm pretty confident his next move will be one that helps him, because it's a business..," Smith said. "(But) I think whatever decision he makes is not going to be one where anyone is blindsided by the decision."
Center Ryan Kalil said losing Chudzinski would be rough.
"I think we've all voiced to him how we feel about him and tried to make it as awkward as we can to make sure he stays," Kalil said with a laugh. "But man, he's a heck of a coach and I think he's going to be a great head coach — just hopefully not anytime soon."
Offensive tackle Jordan Gross said the players loved playing for Chudzinski because of his creativity.
The Panthers weren't afraid to try new things on offense.
"I didn't know what to expect coming in and I didn't know a lot about him," Gross said. "But each week he got better and better. Our game plans got more fun to watch and opened up. As Cam Newton grew, we grew. I told him (Monday) that I want him back. We're not going to be the same offense without him."
But Gross said he understands if Chudzinski leaves, saying, "he's got to do what he's got to do."
When asked if he got a sense that Chudzinski was eager to leave, Gross said, "I think he's like everybody else — he wants to win a Super Bowl and he wants to be a head coach and I don't think he cares what order that comes in. I believe the Panthers will win a Super Bowl with coach Ron Rivera here. Hopefully it's while I'm still here. But I think Chud knows we have something special here on offense too."
Tight end Greg Olsen said he expects more than just the Jaguars to take a look at Chudzinski.
Some of the other teams who have fired their coaches during the season or on Monday include Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Miami and Kansas City.
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