Ron Rivera had to make changes for Cam Newton's career to move forward

Panthers fire OC Mike Shula (0:56)

Louis Riddick explains how Cam Newton's quarterback acumen jeopardizes any offensive coordinator's job in Carolina. (0:56)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was time.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had taken his game about as far as he could under offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey.

Coach Ron Rivera really didn't have a choice but to fire both coaches in order to move his franchise player forward.

It was almost as if Newton knew this was coming following Sunday's 31-26 loss to New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs when he said, "I hate that I could not do enough to get a win today for a lot of guys that I think so highly of."

He also said "certain things just have to happen."

It appeared he was talking about changes to the roster in terms of personnel, such as 30-year-old running back Jonathan Stewart, and he very well might have been.

But he also may have been talking about changes to the staff. Newton has long defended Shula, who always seemed under siege when things didn't go well for the quarterback.

"Coach Shula has been important in my overall growth," Newton said prior to Super Bowl 50 following the 2015 season. "He's been patient. He's been that listening ear. He's also been that disciplinarian when I hadn't been on my best behavior. ... He's been there along the way with his fatherly guidance."

Shula, the son of legendary coach Don Shula, has also long defended Newton when the quarterback was blamed for the offensive woes.

But with the Panthers headed in a new direction offensively with versatile running back Christian McCaffrey, this was the perfect time for Rivera to make a change.

Newton has not improved statistically under Shula over the past two seasons. The offense and Newton were defined by inconsistency during that span. Newton had a combined 41 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in 2016-17 after throwing a career-high 35 touchdowns with just 10 picks in 2015.

Shula had to see this coming even if Rivera indicated on Monday no changes were being made. The Panthers spent much of free agency and the draft giving him more playmakers around Newton. They selected McCaffrey with the eighth overall pick. They selected receiver/back Curtis Samuel out of Ohio State in the second round. They signed left tackle Matt Kalil to a five-year, $55.5 million contract in free agency.

Shula even told McCaffrey the night of the draft that "you're going to make us better right away."

It didn't happen.

To be fair, Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen and Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil missed more than half of the season with injuries. Samuel was limited to nine games and four starts due to injuries.

No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin was traded to Buffalo in early November and wide receiver Damiere Byrd was limited to eight games because of injuries.

The wide receiver corps was so depleted before the playoffs that the group of unknowns called themselves the "misfits."

The offense, with the exception of a few games, never consistently clicked. The Panthers ranked 19th in total offense and 12th in scoring.

This came two seasons removed from Carolina leading the league in scoring and Newton winning the MVP. That offense clicked so well then that Denver cornerback Aqib Talib called Shula a "football genius" before the Super Bowl.

"He understands football," said Talib, referring to Shula's system as complex. "He understands where people are going to be at. He understands defenses."

Shula jokingly called that a "setup." Reminded there was a time three years ago when critics called his offense bland and unimaginative, he quipped, "Thanks for reminding me."

This season was somewhat of a setup in that with the addition of McCaffrey, with Newton finally getting healthy after offseason shoulder surgery, expectations were higher than ever.

Because those expectations weren't met, Rivera needed to make a change.

Shula's replacement will determine, in large part, the direction of the organization. Rivera could go with somebody from the college level since Newton is so adept at the read-option, which isn't a typical NFL scheme.

He could go a more traditional route with old friend Norv Turner, 65, still on the market after resigning as the offensive coordinator at Minnesota last year. Rivera was Turner's defensive coordinator at San Diego from 2008 to 2010 and Rivera spoke highly of Turner last year when there was speculation he might make a change at coordinator.

"He’s such a brilliant offensive mind," Rivera said at the time. "In talking with him, just listening to him, you can learn things."

Whichever direction Rivera takes, it was time.