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Panthers -- and Broncos -- call Mike Shula 'genius' as Super Bowl nears

The Panthers have had a lot to smile about with QB Cam Newton thriving in offensive coordinator Mike Shula's scheme: "He wouldn't want anybody to call him a genius, but he's brilliant," Panthers receiver Jerricho Cotchery said of Shula. AP Photo/Chuck Burton

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Mike Shula was 7 when his dad was being called a genius after the 1972 Miami Dolphins completed a perfect season with a victory in Super Bowl VII.

The Carolina Panthers' offensive coordinator remembers little about the title game, other than his mom gave him a new transistor radio that day.

Oh, and that it was red.

"That was awesome," said Shula, the son of legendary coach Don Shula. "I could listen to the game I was watching."

Fast-forward to Super Bowl 50 on Sunday between the Panthers and Denver Broncos. This time Don will be in attendance with many other family members as his son calls plays for quarterback Cam Newton.

The G-word is being tossed around again.

"He's a football genius," Denver cornerback Aqib Talib said when describing the complex system Mike Shula has developed. "He understands football. He understands where people are going to be at. He understands defenses."

Shula jokingly called this a "setup."

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

There is nothing bland or unimaginative about the Carolina offense. With help from an opportunistic defense that scored four touchdowns and set up many others, the Panthers led the league in scoring at 31.2 points per game.

Newton led the league with 45 touchdowns -- 35 passing and 10 rushing -- out of the zone-read scheme that finished second in the NFL in rushing at 142.6 yards per game.

The Panthers did this without a star wide receiver after Kelvin Benjamin suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp.

"Tons of formations, man," Talib said. "Tons of formations. Tons of motions. Different kind of reverses. Different guys -- the pitch man -- all kinds of stuff."

"He's changing the way offenses are run," Panthers receivers coach Ricky Proehl said. "He's taken a guy in Cam Newton and utilized what he does well, and really recreated an offense around his strengths."

Shula was promoted to coordinator in 2013 after spending two seasons as the quarterbacks coach under Rob Chudzinski. He talked to the coaches at Auburn, where in 2010 Newton led the Tigers to an undefeated season and national title with a no-huddle, zone-read scheme.

He modified that around the talent he had and created the most explosive offense in Carolina history.

He ditched the reputation that he's a conservative-minded coordinator. He resurrected a career that hit a low in 2006, when Shula was fired as the head coach of his alma mater, Alabama.

"Extremely creative," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "That's why teams are having a hard time figuring us out. They think they know what we are and what we are doing, and then we line up and it's like, 'Oh, I thought it was this.'"

Shula is quick to credit his players, particularly Newton.

Cotchery set the record straight.

"That's [Shula]," he said when asked if Shula or Newton deserved more credit for the Panthers' offensive success.

Newton is also quick to credit Shula.

"Coach Shula has been important in my overall growth," he said. "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. He makes his players want to go out there and sell out for him."

Denver linebacker Von Miller gave Carolina's offense a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of schematic difficulty.

"He wouldn't want anybody to call him a genius, but he's brilliant," Cotchery said of Shula.

Don was the brilliant one as Miami completed a 17-0 record with a 14-7 victory against Washington in Super Bowl VII 43 years ago.

Mike Shula has a vivid Super Bowl memory from Miami's loss to Dallas the previous season in New Orleans. It had nothing to do with football.

"I was in the upper deck and it was miserable," he said. "I remember ordering a hot dog, and it was ice cold. An ice cold hot dog."

Shula's memory of the Super Bowl following the 1973 season had little to do with football as well.

"I remember there were these flags in the concession stand and they had one for each team and the one for Miami said, 'The Dolphins No. 1, Vikings eat your heart out,'" Shula said. "And it had a big picture of a heart on it. I told my mom, 'I want to get it.'

"Those are the things you remember as a kid."