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Young quarterbacks nothing new for Shula

Posted May 25, 2011

CHARLOTTE - Shaun King. Jay Fiedler. David Garrard.

The quarterbacks that Mike Shula has worked with throughout his 20-year NFL coaching career aren't exactly all household names, but someone in your house may have heard of them in part because of Shula's stamp on them.

As Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator in 1999, Shula helped King - a rookie - replace injured starter Trent Dilfer midway through the season and take the Buccaneers to the NFC Championship.

As Miami's quarterbacks coach the next year, Shula helped Fiedler go 10-5 in his first season as a starter – as the heir apparent to Dan Marino, who had gone 9-7 in his final season.

And as Jacksonville's first-year quarterbacks coach in 2007, Shula overcame the stunning release of starter Byron Leftwich and helped Garrard go 10-4, leading the Jaguars to their first playoff victory since 1999 in his first year as a starter.

Shula hopes to do more of the same as the Panthers' new quarterbacks coach.

"Most of the guys that I've worked with, now that I think about it, have been guys that were just becoming starters," Shula said. "I like working with quarterbacks and everything about the position and the challenge - on the field, off the field, leadership, communication, decision-making - to be able to help a young man who has aspirations to be the best quarterback he can be. Helping him is why I do it."

The Panthers certainly can improve after ranking last in the NFL last season in passing yards, touchdown passes and quarterback rating.

Help is on the way with No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton out of Auburn. The Panthers also have 2010 second-round draft pick Jimmy Clausen, a 10-game starter last season.

"There's still so many unknowns with Jimmy - on where his ceiling is mentally and physically - but he was exposed to a lot in college with playing quarterback at Notre Dame and also working with Charlie Weis, who does a great job offensively preparing a young man for the NFL," Shula said.

"It's the same thing with Cam. He was exposed to a lot in his college career. And last year as the games got bigger, he played better in an offense that he was very good in but an offense you really don't see a lot in the NFL. He's going to have a lot of learning to do, but at the same time we're going to have to make sure that we find things for him and for Jimmy that they do well and put them in position to do those things."

Shula has been around quarterbacks his entire life.

The son of Don Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history, Mike Shula started playing quarterback around age 13 – about the time he started charting practices at Miami Dolphins training camp for his father while also doing laundry for $62 a week.

Shula went on to earn a scholarship to the University of Alabama and started at quarterback for four seasons, earning all-Southeastern Conference honors twice. The Buccaneers selected him in the 12th round of the 1987 NFL Draft - after taking Vinny Testaverde with the No. 1 overall pick - but within a year, Shula was coaching Testaverde rather than competing against him.

"I was asked by our head coach (Ray Perkins) - who was also my college coach - if I would consider retiring and start coaching in the spring," Shula recalled. "I said, ‘I kind of really still want to play,' and he said, ‘Mike, you're the third quarterback on our team and we're only keeping two, so you do the math.' It took me about a week to figure the math out, and then I decided. I knew I wanted to coach at some point and I was so lucky to have an opportunity to coach in the NFL at 22 years old.

"The first two guys I coached were Vinny and Joe Ferguson, who was at the end of his career. I was 22, Joe was 38, and I was his coach."

Shula, outside of a four-year run as Alabama's head coach, has been coaching offensive players in the NFL ever since - mainly as an offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach.

The one time he held another role - coaching tight ends for Chicago from 1993-95 - he got to know Panthers first-year head coach Ron Rivera, who had just finished his playing career with the Bears and was working in the local media.

That relationship, in addition to a close one with Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, contributed to Shula landing in Carolina following four seasons with the Jaguars.

"My first contact was with Rob Chudzinski. He and I had always talked about potentially working together," Shula said. "Then when I came up here on my visit, I really enjoyed the visit. I liked the way that I feel like we're going to do things here. The communication process I think is really outstanding."

Communication is crucial in Shula's approach to the game, and he's excited about the opportunity to communicate with Carolina's quarterbacks early on in their NFL careers.

"It presents different challenges, but when you get a guy early in his career, it's kind of fun," he said. "You can mold them pretty much however you want to coming out, and you've got to really be on top of your coaching because you want them to really understand the importance of the details, of doing the little things. You have to stay on top of it, and then that gets entrenched into their thought process, too, so that they start thinking that way. That's what we're going to have to do here with these young guys.

"Any team that's got a quarterback that's pushing the right buttons - and we feel like we have guys here that can do that - has a chance. It's just a matter of them learning it and us coaching it. We feel like we do have some pieces in place up front and outside, but as we know, you've got to be on top of your game every Sunday if you're going to have a chance at all."