Whisenhunt builds Arizona into NFC West champion Print
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Thursday, 11 December 2008 09:53
NFL Headline News

 TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -Ken Whisenhunt calmly has succeeded where so many others have failed.
He built a playoff team in Arizona, transforming an NFL wasteland into an NFC West champion in just two seasons.
``A quiet confidence is I think what he's brought to this team more than anything,'' quarterback Kurt Warner said. ``He showed us very early on that he believed in us, that he believed in this organization and what we could accomplish.''
Even if those around him didn't.
This is, after all, a franchise with one playoff appearance in 24 years.
``Players and the organization might not have believed it, but he brought it in and believed it from day one, and slowly it starts to seep in,'' Warner said, ``and guys start to believe it and then you take it to the field, and it starts to show up on the field.''
Whisenhunt has defied the odds beginning when he walked on as a non-scholarship player at Georgia Tech and left as No. 2 in yards receiving in school history.
seasons in the NFL, then climbed through the coaching ranks from directing the special teams at Vanderbilt to offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Russ Grimm was on the staff with Whisenhunt under Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh and is Arizona's assistant head coach and offensive line coach. He credits Whisenhunt's work ethic.
``He's been around programs, been part of programs that have been successful,'' Grimm said. ``He knows what it takes. It takes a consistency on the approach week in and week out, and that's what he does.''
Whisenhunt grew up in Augusta, Ga., and, of course, is an avid golfer. But football was his chosen sport.
He was an all-Atlantic Coast Conference tight end as a senior, then had to prove himself all over again in the NFL. Atlanta drafted him and, a longshot to even make the roster, he played four seasons with the Falcons, then two with the Washington Redskins and three with the New York Jets.
``I always had to make the team, I always had to work to play,'' he said, ``and part of that is my philosophy about how we treat our team. You have to earn the right to play.''
Along the way, he gathered football knowledge, particularly from Dan Henning, Joe Gibbs and Cowher.
organization, it's the latest thing you learn and probably the strongest or freshest in your mind.
``But there's things with coach Gibbs and certainly from coach Henning, who drafted me and got me started in this league, that I use to shape a lot of things that I think and react to.''
After the Steelers won the 2006 Super Bowl, Whisenhunt walked away from a potential head coaching job in Oakland. A year later, he interviewed with Atlanta and the Steelers before accepting the Arizona job.
He replaced Dennis Green, who was fired after consecutive 5-11 season.
``I saw a team that had some talent but needed to have a direction,'' Whisenhunt said, ``that we were on the same page of how you practice, how you work out, how you prepare - just the team process.''
The Cardinals won their final three games in 2007 to finish 8-8, their best record since they went 9-7 and made the playoffs in 1998. Fans packed the state-of-the-art University of Phoenix Stadium, building a boisterous homecourt advantage for a franchise that for years played in front of a few thousand in the blazing heat.
The Cardinals are 11-3 at home since Whisenhunt came to town.
Owner Bill Bidwill, often criticized in the past as a penny-pinching owner, provided the resources for Whisenhunt to hire a talented staff.
From the start, Whisenhunt made it clear that players would earn their time on the field.
it is based on how they perform in practice and what you see out of them in their preparation and any competitive situations that they're in,'' Whisenhunt said. ``Competition is what drives all of us, and what these players really thrive on.''
After the preseason, he named Warner the starter over the franchise's big-name quarterback future Matt Leinart. Halfway through the season, he benched running back Edgerrin James in favor of rookie Tim Hightower.
The Cardinals added a handful of free agents and draft picks to provide depth the team sorely lacked. And Whisenhunt showed he was willing to adjust his style to fit the talent at hand.
``I mean, you know my reputation in Pittsburgh and what I like to do is run the football,'' he said, ``but we've got a quarterback that's playing at a high level, we have very good receivers that are threats in any game. ... We've tried to tailor what we do to best suit the strengths of our personnel.''
Going into Sunday's game against Minnesota, the Cardinals are dead last in the NFL in rushing but second in passing.
Through it all, Whisenhunt stands calmly on the sidelines, talking on his headset, often covering his mouth with his clipboard lest some lip-reading spy steal his strategy.
He said he's just too busy keeping up with the game to waste any energy on emotion.
``Maybe,'' he joked, ``I'm smiling on the inside.''
 

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