Cards coach riding high

The Baltimore Sun

TAMPA, Fla. - Long before he accomplished the dazzling feat of guiding the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl, Ken Whisenhunt's NFL coaching career had an inauspicious start in Baltimore.

As a 35-year-old tight ends coach with the Ravens in 1997, Whisenhunt made news when he got trapped in an elevator for 10 minutes before the last game at Memorial Stadium. All the coaches - Whisenhunt and other assistants - made it to their posts in time for the game.

A year later, Whisenhunt was let go with most of the Ravens' coaching staff when the team fired Ted Marchibroda and hired Brian Billick.

"At that point, I was a young coach in the NFL that was just trying to survive," said Whisenhunt, now 46.

Whisenhunt's unlikely journey to becoming Arizona's head coach seems fitting for the underdog Cardinals.

Twice fired because of head coaching changes (by the Ravens and New York Jets) and then passed over for the Pittsburgh Steelers' head spot, Whisenhunt has kept moving forward when circumstances could have held him back.

It goes back to his two seasons with the Ravens, when he always focused on the goal ahead and refused to worry about the difficulties along the way. As Marchibroda would say, "Don't sweat the small stuff."

"I learned a lot from Coach Marchibroda about how he handled the team, especially in a situation where that team had just moved," Whisenhunt said. "There were a lot of things that they were going through that I've used to help guide me as far as what I've done since then."

Just like his arrival to the Ravens, Whisenhunt came to a team in transition when he became Arizona's coach in 2007.

Before he was hired, the Cardinals had had only two winning seasons in the past 23 years. They had won one playoff game since 1947.

He was coming to what had been an NFL head coaching graveyard. Since the Cardinals relocated to Arizona in 1988, seven coaches (Gene Stallings, Hank Kuhlmann, Joe Bugel, Buddy Ryan, Vince Tobin, Dave McGinnis and Dennis Green) had failed to lift the team to respectability, and none has been a head coach again.

Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said he knew Whisenhunt was different after one meeting with him.

"You get a gut feeling about who could get it done," Bidwill said. "He was absolutely a strong leader who could convince a locker room full of players to do what they needed to do to win football games consistently."

Whisenhunt was available for the Cardinals in 2007 because the Steelers didn't actively pursue him as their coach.

An assistant to Bill Cowher for six years (the last three as offensive coordinator), Whisenhunt was interviewed once by Pittsburgh, but that's as far as it went.

After the Steelers left him out of their second round of interviews, he decided to accept the Cardinals job. Pittsburgh eventually chose Mike Tomlin.

"Why would I have any hard feelings?" Whisenhunt said. "I don't see why you wouldn't want an NFL job. I had a great opportunity here. There were a lot of things that I thought were in place that would help us have an opportunity to win. I think we have shown that, and I am excited about that."


1995-1996: Vanderbilt, special teams, tight ends and H-backs coach

1997-1998: Ravens, tight ends coach

1999: Cleveland Browns, special teams coach

2000: New York Jets, tight ends coach

2001-2003: Pittsburgh Steelers, tight ends coach

2004-2006: Steelers, offensive coordinator

2007-present: Arizona Cardinals, head coach


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