The hiring of Ken Whisenhunt has been a polarizing thus far to say the least. It's drawn ire from, in order of importance, MCM commenters, Bill Barnwell, gramsey, and something called a Matt Leinart. What we've been getting is mostly a mixed bag of reactions which is kind of the best anyone could've expected from a hire that wasn't (somehow) Jim Harbaugh or the Ghost of Tom Landry. Sure, there may have been more favorable candidates out there, I know Greg Roman was pretty high on most everybody's list, but this is our guy and now it's time to step back from the initial mayhem and see what we've got here.
Without looking at anything and just making a snap decision on what I think of Whisenhunt as a coach, I would say that my overall impression of him is that he's got an incredible mind for offense but makes some questionable personnel decisions that got him into some seriously hot water in Arizona. While he was given the undesirable task of filling the most important spot on the offense during life after Kurt Warner, I think he could have done a better job finding a viable replacement at quarterback for when Warner would inevitably retire. It's not as if he had an embarrassment of riches to choose from in the first place, however. Max Hall, Ryan Lindley, Brian Hoyer, a Deer Valley Middle School prodigy of some sorts, John Skelton, Derek Anderson, a homeless man, Matt Leinart, and Kevin Kolb would all make multiple starts for Arizona during the end of Whisenhunt's tenure in the desert. That is truly one of the most futile groups of quarterbacks in NFL history. It makes the 2013 Vikings look viable in comparison. Life was not easy on Whisenhunt, the Kolb move reeked of desperation to find something, anything to make the endless carousel of crappy quarterbacks stop. Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there.
When Whisenhunt signed an extension to be Arizona's head coach in February of 2010, he negotiated in the rights to make personnel and staff decisions Along with trading for Kolb, the decisions to sign Anderson and to draft Max Hall, Ryan Lindley, and John Skelton were all his. First round picks made under Whisenhunt include Beanie Wells, Dan Williams, Levi Brown, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Patrick Peterson, and Michael Floyd. One of those guys is an absolute star (Peterson) and one is still getting better (Floyd), but the rest are washouts or are no longer with the team. Other draft day whiffs include Alan Branch, Buster Davis, Cody Brown, Early Doucet, and Ryan Williams (through no real fault of his own). Some might argue that the situation in Arizona could have been greatly improved with the addition of an NFL caliber offensive line, and that may be true, but again this is something we can blame on Whisenhunt because if he had enough control to bring in a bunch of crummy quarterbacks, he should also have had enough control to bring in a ton of new offensive linemen to get turnstiles like Levi Brown, who was possibly the worst lineman in the NFL when he was a starter, and Adam Snyder out of the lineup.
For Whisenhunt to have any kind of success with the Titans, he's going to need to be more of a coach and less of a general manager. In short, he's got to let Ruston Webster do his thing and take what he's given. Let's hope that Webster has an eye for talent so that he can find players that will suit Whisenhunt's style on offense and defense and that Whisenhunt has learned his lesson, that he is a coach and not a general manager, for a reason.
As I said earlier, there has been a ton of negativity surrounding this hire, some of that negativity has been coming out of Matt Leinart's corner. Have you been wondering what our old pal Matt Leinart has been up to lately? Too bad, here's a quote.
"I don't think it's a great fit, and I don’t think it’s great timing, and here’s why," Leinart said of the Titans hiring Whisenhunt. "You look at his tenure in Arizona — only two years, he had success, and in those two years, Kurt Warner ran that football team — I was a part of it. Every single Monday, Kurt Warner would come in and implement 20 to 30 new plays which he would say ‘I want these in my game plan.’ We became a spread offense and we became Kurt Warner’s offense. Then Kurt Warner retires, they go 5-11 twice and they go 8-8."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but then again, Matt Leinart has never really been a bastion of football knowledge to begin with. All jokes aside, this is something that could either be the result of legitimate criticism or it could just be Leinart showing off his ax to grind. Contrary to popular belief, this is my understanding of how the Leinart saga played out in Arizona. Leinart was drafted in the first round before Whisenhunt arrived. Once he got there, he was told that Leinart was the quarterback of the future, so he started him during the 2007 season, however they immediately began using Warner off the bench to run an early-game no-huddle series or two (weird) and off the bench in the second half if the team was down which drew some criticism because it was pretty unconventional at the time.
Then, Leinart broke his collarbone and Warner played great football as the full time starter for the rest of 2007. In 2008, there was an open competition which Warner won. Finally, Warner retired after the Super Bowl loss to the Steelers and when Whisenhunt finally had the decision to run with Leinart, something you'd think he'd be salivating over given how much people talk about how he "pushed for Leinart", he cut him entirely. Doesn't exactly sound like a vote of confidence to me. Could Leinart be bitter about his time in Arizona? Possibly, but he could also be right about Whisenhunt, which would surprising to me, Whisenhunt's issues have never seemed to come from the X's and O's of the game, rather in personnel identification and utilization. I, for one, applaud how level-headed he was about the situation. Leinart had won the starting job as a rookie and played reasonably well enough for people to still be high on him, but he looked past the hype and, although it eventually took an injury, made an executive decision that led to the best season of professional football in the history of the state of Arizona.
The question for me is whether or not he'll be given an opportunity to start a quarterback competition because if he does we could be in some serious trouble. My hope is that Jake Locker stays healthy for once and that this all seems like a bunch of stressing over nothing in a year's time, but if next season plays out at all like this one, we are going to be at a very difficult crossroads, one similar enough to the one that got Whisenhunt canned in Arizona that I would be worried that he'd panic and set the franchise back about 3 years. If Locker stays healthy, he'll have a banner year. Phillip Rivers was at the height of his powers this season and I fully credit Ken Whisenhunt for that. He was making better decisions and his footwork looked miles better than it has in years past.
Ken Whisenhunt, when he's been around QB's with any kind of talent, has gotten great results out of his teams. Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, Kurt Warner in Arizona, and Phillip Rivers in San Diego all fielded successful under his tutelage. While it's tough to say whether Warner's career resurgence was based on Whisenhunt or whether Roethlisberger would have been good regardless, Rivers surging to comeback player of the year when he looked all but washed up is very encouraging to me.
The final point I'll bring up is that I'm kind of sick of hearing about how Whisenhunt is a retread. John Fox is on the cusp of winning a Super Bowl in Denver after leaving Carolina not 5 years ago. There have been some amazingly good retread hires in the past 15 years. Several Super Bowls have been won by retreads in the past decade alone. Tom Coughlin? Retread. Belichick? Retread. Dungy? Vermil? Shanahan? Gruden? All retreads, all won Super Bowls with their second teams.
Overall, there are some potential issues with the Whisenhunt hire, but remember to always consider both sides. I think that as long as he is kept on a tight leash when it comes to new player acquisition that he'll be just fine.