The San Diego Chargers announced former Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt will coordinate the offense in 2013. Whisenhunt failed to land another head coaching position after interviewing with several teams—including the Chargers.
It’s a curious hire because Whisenhunt was fired for having a poor quarterback and offensive line in Arizona—the same areas that plagued the Chargers. In San Diego, Whisenhunt’s primary job will be to get Philip Rivers to produce at a high level again. A big part of getting Rivers on track is having an offensive line that can protect him and a productive running game to complement the passing game.
There are one or three possible outcomes for the Chargers with the hiring of Whisenhunt. If he turns Rivers around and the blocking significantly improves, then Whisenhunt will probably get another opportunity to be a head coach next season. If he fails to turn Rivers and the offensive line around, then he was a bad hire.
The only way this hire works for the Chargers in the long term is if Whisenhunt turns around Rivers or the blocking, but not both. Obviously, this means accepting some level of failure from Whisenhunt in the short term. Best-case scenario: Whisenhunt succeeds and the Chargers are right back in the situation of needing an offensive coordinator in 2013.
Despite the obvious drawbacks of Whisenhunt, he’s had success turning around offenses. When Whisenhunt took over as offensive coordinator of the Steelers in 2004, the offense improved from 19th in points scored to 11th. One point that should be made is that the Steelers also moved from Tommy Maddox to Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. At the time that was a big risk starting a rookie quarterback, but Whisenhunt’s offense still improved.
When Whisenhunt left, the Steelers’ offense took another small step forward with Bruce Arians as the offensive coordinator. Realistically, the quarterback had more to do with the ranking than Whisenhunt. When Whisenhunt took over as the head coach and play-caller for the Cardinals in 2007, they improved from 19th in scoring to seventh, but they also switched from Matt Leinart to Kurt Warner at quarterback.
The quarterback clearly has a lot to do with Whisenhunt’s success at turning around offenses. After Warner retired, Whisenhunt failed to find and develop a quarterback. He does not have a history of taking over an offense and making the existing starter better. That doesn’t mean he’s not capable.
Whisenhunt’s rushing offenses were always good when he was the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, but they never ranked better than 24th in yardage during his time in Arizona. His rushing offense finished dead last in three of his six years in Arizona including two of the seasons he called plays.
The Steelers average ranking in points scored with Whisenhunt was 11th and with the Cardinals it was 17th. His offenses have averaged 15th overall and 14th when he’s called the plays. That’s pretty average, so don’t expect miracles.
Whisenhunt is clearly a pretty good coach or he wouldn’t have made it to this point. He’s a solid hire at this stage and will certainly add the experience that Mike McCoy lacks. Whisenhunt could also bring with him offensive line coach Russ Grimm, who at one point was considered one of the best in the game.
There’s a lot to like about bringing in Whisenhunt, but his struggles with quarterbacks and the offensive line should give Chargers fans reason to be concerned. The Chargers should also be worried that he could be only a one-year stop-gap solution instead of a long-term option. At worst, Whisenhunt is a highly qualified coach who Rivers will have no trouble getting along with.