In 2008, Ken Whisenhunt was the toast of all Arizona, after leading their the much maligned Cardinals to their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. He followed up in 2009 by leading the team to back-to-back playoff appearances, an unimaginable feat for many Cardinals fans. However since the retirement of quarterback Kurt Warner before the 2010 season, much of Whisenhunt's shine seems to have faded. After back-to-back sub .500 seasons, six different starting quarterback's and missed playoff berths, patience seems to be warning thin. Clearly, the Bidwells, the Cardinals owners, have much more patience with head coaches than many, and there is more than a fair amount of blame to go around. But conventional wisdom has it that unless Whisenhunt can somehow miraculously lead the team back to an 8-8 season -- dropping no more than one more game down the stretch -- then he has to go. One or two more losses therefore, will likely result in Whisenhunt becoming one of the first coaching casualties of 2012. Whisenhunt's failure to identify a clear line of succession at quarterback following Warner's retirement, and unwillingness to ride a single young quarterback and allow them to develop has been a major concern over the last three years, which has seen Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and most recently Ryan Lindlay start during regular season, in addition to Matt Leinart and Richard Bartel during preseason. The problems are undoubtedly compounded furthermore by the organizations failure to protect those players by bolstering their patchwork offensive line, either through the draft or trading, and his failure to acknowledge that line coach Russ Grimm has not been getting the job done. In both of these cases, it's not entirely fair to blame Whisenhunt for these things general manager Rod Graves, position coaches, and other front office staff all need to take some responsibility, but as the face of the franchise, the buck inevitably stops with Whisenhunt, over and above all of these people. His failure to win the signature of Peyton Manning, the growing bust status of big budget signing Kevin Kolb and the losses of several high profile players and coaches like Anquan Boldin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Todd Haley have undoubtedly all played a part too. However, the biggest reason that Whisenhunt has to go actually comes down to one of his biggest successes, Ray Horton and the Cardinals defense. In just two short years, Horton's defense has developed into one of the most elite units in the NFL. Young, unconventional, brutal and high tempo, Horton's unit is one of the unquestionable success stories in the NFL this year. The result of this success, however, is that Horton is also one of the most sought after head coaching candidates for next year. As a highly talented black coordinator, Horton is guaranteed to get numerous interviews, for head coaching positions, and as impressive as he is, his appointment seems inevitable. One way or another, Horton will be a head coach in 2013. If the Cardinals do not make him theirs, then someone else certainly will. Many fans may still remember the Cardinals 2008 and 2009 seasons, and could be willing to give Whisenhunt one more season, or at very least, until the end of this season, to shape up, but doing so means running the risk of losing Horton. Without Horton and the Cardinals defense this season, fans would have no highlights, no silver linings, nothing at all to hang their hats on. Before the end of 2012, several other offensively minded head coaches are all but guaranteed to be be out of work, and not all of them are going to walk straight back into head coaching jobs. Many would likely be interested in proving themselves as an offensive coordinator in Arizona before returning to the top job elsewhere. With tools like Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd at receiver, a quickly improving group of young running backs, and early draft picks—which improve with every loss—to address their quarterback and offensive line issues, the Cardinals are likely to be an interesting prospect for any offensively minded coach. Horton, in the end, may not be the answer. He is a defensive genius, but only has two years experience as a coordinator, and none at all at head coach. As a coordinator in Arizona, he has never paced the sideline, preferring instead to call plays from the box, limiting his experience still further. However, the simple fact remains, he has earned the right to have a go. What he has done to the Cardinals defense is nothing short of miraculous, and the prospect of what he could do with the rest of the team is too tantalizing to pass up on, especially as Whisenhunt continues to struggle. The Cardinals will need to find a new coordinator next season, either offensive under Horton, or defensive under Whisenhunt. Horton has proven his success in recent years, Whisenhunt, sadly, has not, so the choice, to most, seems clear.
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