Whisenhunt, Graves are out: What's next?
December, 31, 2012
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesCoach Ken Whisenhunt was 45-51 in six seasons with the Cardinals.Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves bet their jobs on the Kevin Kolb acquisition in 2011.
They lost them in spectacular fashion.
Their firings Monday set a new course for the organization. There is simply no defending the Cardinals' record at quarterback since Kurt Warner retired following the 2009 season.
Just about every quarterback the Cardinals tried got worse over time. The one Whisenhunt named to start this season, John Skelton, slipped so far that the team was naming him inactive late in the season, preferring instead to go with waiver-wire pickup Brian Hoyer and sixth-round rookie Ryan Lindley as the top two quarterbacks.
I think Whisenhunt was a good coach in many ways. He was emotionally consistent. He set standards and tried to hold players accountable to them, even when it meant benching established players. He seemed prepared for in-game situations and showed a firm grasp of the rules.
An Eagle Scout with an engineering degree from Georgia Tech, Whisenhunt was plenty sharp for the job. In the end, he wasn't good enough to win with the quarterbacks he helped select and failed to develop. Finishing with a 5-11 record twice in three seasons, including in 2012, spelled his demise following six seasons with the team.
Whisenhunt will go down in Cardinals history as the first coach to lead the team to a Super Bowl. He will go down in the Arizona-era history as the first coach to earn a second contract with the team. His 4-2 record in postseason games was impressive. He played a leading role in turning around an organization that hadn't won anything in years.
But in the final evaluation, there was zero evidence Graves and/or Whisenhunt were suddenly going to start acquiring and developing viable quarterbacks. Their failings in that one area explain why we're having this discussion one day after the 2012 regular season.
The Cardinals went 5-0 this season when they scored 20-plus points. They lost three games when the opponent failed to score 20.
No team with Larry Fitzgerald and the talented receiving corps should struggle as badly as the Cardinals did this season. Injuries compounded the situation, for sure. Arizona lost left tackle Levi Brown before the season. Running backs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams struggled and missed extensive time because of injuries. Kolb had thrown eight touchdown passes with three picks before a Week 6 rib injury ended his season. The Cardinals connected for only three additional scoring passes from Week 7 to the end of the regular season.
There were times, I thought, when Whisenhunt and the offensive staff seemed to stubbornly stick with the pass-oriented approach Warner made work so famously. Arizona attempted 24 first-half passes and had 54 total dropbacks against St. Louis in Lindley's first NFL start. That approach didn't make sense, even though the Cardinals were low on options at running back as well. But those complaints were trivial in the absence of a legitimate quarterback.
Whisenhunt also could have used more from his staff.
Line coach Russ Grimm became a Hall of Famer as a player, but his coaching legacy in Arizona failed to meet high initial expectations.
Center Lyle Sendlein was one player the Cardinals developed into a very good starter up front. How many other success stories were there during Whisenhunt's run with the team? Brown, the fifth overall pick in 2007, never developed into what Grimm and the Cardinals believed. And when the front office stopped drafting offensive linemen, the team ran low on talent. That became critical as the QB situation deteriorated.
Meanwhile, division rivals Seattle and San Francisco sent four of their drafted linemen to the Pro Bowl this season.
Six years is a long time in the NFL. Sometimes, a coach runs his course in a place. Sometimes, a change benefits all involved. Coaches almost never get everything they want. That was presumably the case with Whisenhunt in Arizona. But when it came time to acquire Kolb at great cost and invest to keep Fitzgerald, the organization did its part.
I would expect the Cardinals to consider promoting Ray Horton from defensive coordinator to coach. I would expect them to consider promoting Steve Keim from vice president of player personnel to GM.
Those two won't fare any better in the end without at least an average quarterback. Seattle found Russell Wilson in the third round. San Francisco took Colin Kaepernick in the second.
The Cardinals move toward the 2013 draft with the seventh overall choice. They have needs on the offensive line and at outside linebacker, but mostly they need a quarterback. That hasn't changed since 2009.