Oct 14, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt (left) talks with quarterbacks Philip Rivers (17) and Charlie Whitehurst (6) during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers defeated the Colts 19-9. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions Coaching Search: Ken Whisenhunt a Solid Option


As the Detroit Lions coaching search heats up, a lot of names will be thrown around. Some will be more realistic than others but one popular name that makes a lot of sense is San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.

He has a connection to Martin Mayhew having played together on the Washington Redskins in the early 90s, but the draw is much more powerful than that. Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator when the Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowl XL, the Chargers offense has seen a resurgence this season, particularly in the play of veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, and Whisenhunt has head coaching experience that includes the Arizona Cardinals’ only Super Bowl appearance.

Whisenhunt had things rolling in Arizona during a three-year stretch from 2007-2009 with a pair of NFC West titles. Of particular interest to Lions fans will be how the Cardinals offense performed in that stretch. While their rankings for total offense (yards) were good, they were even better at turning yardage into points. Contrast that to what the Lions have done over the past two years in which they have ranked much higher in terms of producing yards than points.

Year Team Yds Rank Pts Rank Difference
2007 Cardinals 12 7 5
2008 Cardinals 4 3 1
2009 Cardinals 14 11 3
2012 Lions 3 13 -10
2013 Lions 6 17 -11

So, what went wrong in Arizona? It is an important question to ask to know if Whisenhunt represents just another retread head coach or a guy who deserves another shot. The biggest issue is tied to the organization’s inability to replace Kurt Warner. The list of quarterbacks who played for Whisenhunt’s Cardinals post-Warner reads: Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall, Richard Bartel, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer.

Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell cited developing quarterbacks as an important step going forwards, but considering the list of names Whisenhunt had to work with and the fact that general manager Rod Graves was fired at the same time, there were clearly prevailing personnel issues no coach could have overcome.

Like the Lions, the Cardinals aren’t a franchise known for having a lot of success on the field. Despite that, Whisenhunt left Arizona as their longest tenured coach (tied with Jim Hanifan at six years), winningest coach with 49 total victories and guided the team to twice as many playoff wins as the franchise had prior to his arrival.

With the Lions presenting a “win now” attitude in yesterday’s press conference it stands to reason their next coach will have previous head coaching experience. Should they choose to go in the direction of an offensive-minded coach (which isn’t guaranteed), Whisenhunt may the best choice given the combination of qualities he brings to the table.

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  • Matthew VerHage

    How is Whisenhunt on discipline? Are you able to mine some data on penalties and turnovers from his years as a head coach?

    • http://sidelionreport.com/ Zac Snyder

      Cardinals were generally ranked in the 20s in penalties per game based on my quick search. Similar for turnover margin but I would have to dig deeper to see if that was more a result of inability to create turnovers on defense or turning the ball over on offense. Based on raw defensive ranks, I’d guess the former.

  • Alonzo

    Great article Zac! “Whisenhunt had to work with and the fact that general manager Rod Graves
    was fired at the same time, there were clearly prevailing personnel
    issues no coach could have overcome.” This sentence sums up everything about his tenure. I lived in Arizona for 10 years and was there when he was the coach. If you can believe it the Bidwells are worse than the Fords at running a franchise. If , they would have given him better QB options he’d still be there.

    BTW, I was at that Lions-LA Raiders game too, Marcus Allen was still playing at the time. The best collection of players in one game in Silverdome history :).