The former NFL tight end became one of the most successful head coaches in the history of the Arizona Cardinals franchise
It was the beginning of the year 2007, and the Arizona Cardinals organization was reeling. They had just parted ways with their Head Coach of the past three seasons, the late Dennis Green. The breakup ended one of the bleakest periods in franchise history, a time in which the team went a miserable 16-32.
Rod Graves, their General Manager at the time, was busy lining up replacements for Green. The list included Norm Chow, Russ Grimm, Ron Rivera, Mike Sherman and Jim Caldwell. Also being considered was Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.
He would emerge the winner, and the new leader of the Cardinals started assembling his coaching staff. Grimm, one of the candidates he beat out for the gig, was hired as assistant Head Coach/offensive line. Todd Haley was named offensive coordinator, while a holdover from Green’s staff, Clancy Pendergast, was retained to run the defense.
His first season ended with an 8-8 record. While not a winning campaign, it had to have been considered a minor success following the Green disaster. 2007 featured a re-emergence of sorts for a former Super Bowl champion quarterback, Kurt Warner.
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Entering the 2008 training camp, Warner’s success in ’07 created a quarterback controversy with the club’s 2006 first-round draft pick, Matt Leinart. It turned out to be a Cinderella season in ’08 for Arizona, spearheaded by Warner, who had won the starting job. The squad parlayed a 9-7 record into the franchise’s only Super Bowl, with the Cardinals ultimately losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Whisenhunt/Warner combination had put Arizona on the map, and the success continued to a degree in 2009. The Cards finished the year at 10-6, good enough for an NFC Western Division title. There was one playoff victory, a scintillating 51-45 triumph over the Green Bay Packers, before they bowed out against the New Orleans Saints the following week.
The wheels fell off in 2010 after Warner abruptly retired. Terrible quarterback play from the likes of Derek Anderson, John Skelton and Max Hall contributed heavily to a 5-11 finish. The inevitable question then emerged; how much of Whisenhunt’s success was due to the fact that he had a future Hall of Famer at quarterback?
The Cardinals’ Head Coach answered that question to a point in 2011, turning in a pretty decent season despite the absence of Warner. He somehow managed to win eight games with extreme mediocrity at quarterback (Kevin Kolb, Skelton). Also, the team rallied to win five of it’s last six contests, showing that the players did not quit on their leader.
That momentum carried into 2012 when Arizona started the year with four straight wins. But they then went into the tank, losing 11 of their last 12. The horrible finish prompted management to cut ties with Whisenhunt after the season.
It can’t be denied that the hiring of Whisenhunt re-energized the Cards. There’s also no denying that Warner played a huge role in his success. But most NFL Head Coaches need a good quarterback to win, so that shouldn’t be held against him.
At the end of the day, Whisenhunt is one of the winningest Head Coaches in franchise history. And that says alot.
Thanks for the memories, Ken.