Ken Whisenhunt: Arizona Cardinals' Head Coach or Saboteur-in-Chief?

Tom HighwayCorrespondent ISeptember 1, 2008

Saturday afternoon, with Arizona's preseason games completed and only one week remaining before opening-day kickoff, head coach Ken Whisenhunt stood before the Arizona press corps to announce the final roster and to name the Kurt Warner as the starting quarterback.

One would expect that his announcement would be delivered with a sense of excitement and convey the heightened expectations of a coach and his team embarking upon a new season with most of its key players in good health.

Instead, a sullen Whisenhunt delivered a prepared speech in which he could not hide his disappointment in the result of the so-called quarterback competition.

It has been widely suspected that Whisenhunt had no desire to open the job up to competition and resented having his hand forced into actually delivering one.

Last season, the so-called "face of the franchise," QB Matt Leinart, performed at arguably the worst level of all starting NFL signal callers. 

His 61.9 passer rating was the lowest in the league, and he averaged only 129 passing yards per game—also an NFL low. He averaged only 0.4 touchdowns per game, and threw two interceptions for every touchdown.

And despite throwing to the best wide-receiver duo in the NFL, he threw only one touchdown to Anquan Boldin and zero to Larry Fitzgerald through five games.

After Leinart's season was ended with a broken collarbone (his second season-ending injury in his last five sacks), Kurt Warner was spectacular in his stead.

In only 11 starts, Warner tossed 27 touchdowns—including 21 in his final eight games. 

Boldin finished the year with nine TDs and Fitzgerald finished with 10 and made the Pro Bowl. Warner also finished in the top-10 in most quarterback categories, including passer rating (89.8), yards per game, and touchdowns per game. In the last half of the season, he even threw more touchdowns than Tom Brady.

Yet, the day after the 2007 season ended, Ken Whisenhunt announced Matt Leinart as the 2008 season starter. His rationale was the tired, old cliché that "a player shouldn't lose his job to injury"—although there are countless examples in all sports that suggest otherwise.

Arizona Cardinal fans were incredulous that the obviously better Warner was being pushed to the curb for Leinart, who, up until his injury, was doing a convincing impersonation of Ryan Leaf.

Fans widely sensed that management was pressuring Whisenhunt to promote their golden boy, and that Whisenhunt was siding with management over the good of the team. And with Anquan Boldin making a similar claim this summer, this seems to be developing into a disturbing trend.

And it's unlikely that Warner would have accepted this undeserved demotion without demanding a release, a trade, or threatening retirement.

So would Whisenhunt have the nerve to enter training camp with only an immature Leinart and no credible "Plan B," in case Leinart once again flops or fails to focus on football—as he did in the 2007 training camp?


We know only that Warner walked out of Whisenhunt's office and told every reporter he could find that Whisenhunt promised him, "The best quarterback would play." So, did Whisenhunt intend to keep that promise?...Or was he merely attempting to manipulate Warner into staying—to serve as a kind of "stalking horse" to keep Leinart in line?

But Warner's public comments were not easily refuted. What could Whisenhunt say?..."No, the best player is not going to play?"

And so the players, fans, and press corps expected to see a competition. Warner had set in motion a game of chess—or chicken—between himself and an organization hell-bent on elevating Leinart as the starting quarterback. 

However, a defiant Whisenhunt wouldn't even acknowledge that a competition existed until an uproar ensued after he failed to allow Warner to even play in the preseason opener versus New Orleans.

Whisenhunt relented, and Warner was allowed some preseason snaps, although it was less than half of those allotted to Leinart. But Warner made the most of those and demonstrated solid performances in all his brief appearances.

And after Leinart posted a poor outing versus Kansas City's first string and after a three-interception meltdown versus the Oakland Raiders, Whisenhunt was forced to promote Warner—or lose credibility in front of the team, fans, and the press.


When announcing the final result of the sham competition, Whisenhunt went wishy-washy. Once again, he became Ken "Weaselhunt." And rather than talk up the victor, he went on to concede only this:

"We've decided at this point that the person that best gives us the chance to win next Sunday at San Francisco is Kurt Warner. So, he will start for us at San Francisco, and I think we just said we'll just see how that goes...."

"Once again, when it comes down to what we feel is the best situation for us in our opener against San Francisco ... I felt like it was Kurt."


So after throwing 21 touchdowns in the final eight games and winning the eight-month offseason quarterback competition, Warner gets rewarded with one start—and a road game at that? Can anyone name a quarterback in recent memory who began the season with a one-game anvil hanging over his head?

This is incredibly foolish on Whisenhunt's part. And does anyone actually believe that such a weak setup provides either Kurt Warner or the team with the confidence required to play their best? Of course not. Ken Weaselhunt owes his team—including Kurt Warner—better.

Later in the press conference, when asked about Matt Leinart, he responded with:

"I have no doubts, when it's his turn this year to play, that he'll respond the same way."

Let me see if I've got this straight:

The Cardinals haven't yet played a game this season, and he already knows with certainty that Leinart will see the field...that he is certain that his starting quarterback will either fail or get injured?

Is coach "Weaselhunt" actively trying to sabotage the season?

His words certainly aren't helping the team to prepare to win. So what is his motivation here? Is he more concerned with soothing Matt Leinart's fragile "psyche" than putting his starting quarterback in the right mindset?

Is he more concerned with maintaining his inappropriate concern with Rod Graves' job and the Bidwills' marketing goals—to the detriment of his own players?

"Weaselhunt" should remember this above all else: On average, throughout the last four decades, the Bidwills have fired their head coach every 2.8 years. 

So, he'd better focus on winning and let go of his desire to cross the line into management or to play amateur psychologist to a perpetually immature Matt Leinart. Frankly, with at least three losses last season directly attributable to major coaching-blunders, he has enough on his plate to worry about.

If he's interested in keeping his job, then he needs to keep his focus on coaching the team through a winning season and making a run to the playoffs.

The rest is not his concern.


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