Ken Whisenhunt was one of the numerous casualties on “Black Monday.” He was one of seven head coaches to be fired on the day after the end of the 2012 NFL regular season.
The Arizona Cardinals finished the year at 5-11 and in last place in the NFC West. They lost 11 of their final 12 games and haven’t made the playoffs since 2009.
Whisenhunt made some key mistakes that led to Arizona’s fourth place finish. He mishandled the Cardinals quarterback situation, starting four different signal callers throughout the season. However, he was plagued by a lack of talent at the position. It may have been a challenge for any coach to succeed with the likes of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer.
In his six seasons with Arizona, Whisenhunt proved that he could exceed expectations. The Cardinals surprised many by winning the NFC title, and appearing in Super Bowl XLIII. He helped resurrect the franchise with back-to-back winning seasons in 2008 and 2009. In the team’s previous 14-year history in Arizona, they had a record above .500 just once.
The former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator might not be out of work for long, as he’ll be one of the frontrunners for multiple head coaching jobs. He interviewed for the Buffalo Bills opening, and was almost hired ahead of Doug Marrone, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com.
Now, Whisenhunt may be in line to go to another team. He interviewed with the Cleveland Browns last week, who fired Pat Shurmur at year’s end.
The former Cardinals coach hasn’t been hired after meeting with Cleveland a week ago, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t get the job. The club had reportedly been eyeing Oregon’s Chip Kelly and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien. Both coaches eventually decided to stay in the college ranks. With Kelly and O’Brien no longer options, Whisenhunt should be one of the favorites to land the position.
Cleveland will reportedly meet with Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer on Wednesday. They have yet to interview former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, and Andy Reid is off the market after Kansas City Chiefs quickly signed him. Coaching candidates like Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Brian Billick have been out of the league for years, and haven’t come close to making a return.
That leaves Whisenhunt with perhaps the best track record of any candidate.
The Browns haven’t found success hiring college coaches and NFL coordinators. Whisenhunt has proven that he can turn around a franchise, and Cleveland is in desperate need of a coach is capable of reversing their fortunes. The Browns have only made the playoffs once since being reactivated in 1999.
If the Browns decide not to hire Whisenhunt, the Chicago Bears would be another possible destination. The franchise is looking for a new coach after letting Smith go, who spent nine years with the team.
Whisenhunt fits the bill of the type of coach that Chicago is looking for. Under Smith, the Bears struggled offensively, and they’re looking to bring in a coach that could help them become a high-scoring team. Whisenhunt won a Super Bowl with the Steelers as an offensive coordinator. He made a Super Bowl appearance with Kurt Warner at quarterback, and could have success with someone like Jay Cutler at the helm.
The Bears have been one of the better defensive teams in the past few seasons, and Whisenhunt has shown that he won’t ignore that side of the ball as a head coach. In 2012, the Cardinals were 12th in total defense.
His past few years in Arizona were a struggle, but a new start for Whisenhunt could be beneficial for several of the teams that are looking to make a hire.