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.
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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.