Remember when the idea that leading the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl would have insured the kind of job security only Supreme Court Justices and the Pope have enjoyed?
The Justices and the Pontiff don’t have to rely on a quarterback for their employable well-being. And if you don’t have a quarterback in the NFL, even divine intervention can’t provide a protective pocket.
There are a lot of reasons why Cardinals management will think long and hard about whether to fire Ken Whisenhunt at the end of the season. Four NFC playoff wins for a franchise that didn’t have that many in their entire franchise history. Three trips to the postseason. Two NFC West titles. When you remember the Bidwills are making this decision, the most important number of all is the one year left on his contract.
There are the reasons that leave Whisenhunt completely vulnerable to the right decision on his fate — Derek Anderson, Max Hall, Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley — all who have tried to assume the throne of Kurt Warner, all who have failed to extend the brief salad days of the league’s most beleaguered franchise.
Why general manager Rod Graves still has a job is beyond me. For one guy to have survived through so much tumult, and, for the most part, futility, for 15 seasons is amazing. But Graves has taken a back seat since the Cardinals became relevant in 2007. Make no mistake, Whisenhunt has trumped Graves when it comes to decisions involving the 53-man roster and has hand-picked the litany of quarterback disasters that followed Warner’s retirement.
Whisenhunt has the same offensive line coach (Russ Grimm) who, for all of his accolades as a player and his reputation as an up-and-comer as a coach, has proved incapable of creating an NFL-competent unit. Some of that is a lack of talent, especially on the drafting side. Some of it isn’t.
Two keys to the offense — Kolb and running back Beanie Wells — were unable to stay healthy for a second consecutive season. All the John Skelton fans who clamored for him to be the starter this season and were blinded by a meaningless strong finish in 2011 now know that Arizona’s chances this season, no matter how slippery the slope, revolved around Kolb’s health.
Don’t be fooled by the close losses. Numbers would justify the argument that if Jay Feely had made his field goal to beat Buffalo and the Cardinals had found a way to score two more points against the Jets, they would have been 6-6 heading to Seattle and within striking distance of the Seahawks. But common sense wins out: the Cardinals were done before Halloween and it’s not the first time that’s happened lately.
While he earns points for the hiring of effective assistants like Todd Haley and Ray Horton, Whisenhunt’s game management, use of timeouts and decisions on instant replay challenges have left something to be desired throughout his tenure.
Since making his third straight playoff appearance in 2009 — all with Warner masking the deficiencies with his quick release and quick thinking — the head coach has been unable to keep the team from falling into losing streak of at least five games in each of the last three seasons. Losing nine in a row after a 4-0 start, combined with the locker room in-fighting and the white flag sent up the flagpole of CenturyLink Field last Sunday in an embarrassment of epic proportions, leaves little doubt about what has to happen when the season ends.
I have heard the argument that you can’t advocate the ousting of Whisenhunt and Graves without offering a better solution. OK, what now? The Bengals could have fired Marvin Lewis, but stuck with him and are back within playoff position. Give Whisenhunt another year and another quarterback and see what happens. Who could have won with this anemic of an offense? There is also the matter of his contract for 2013, one of the most lucrative in the league that would require swallowing.
Rebuilding is always hard. It’s almost always expensive. But it’s time. If quarterbacks are so hard to find, why do the 49ers and Seahawks each have two quarterbacks who are better than anyone on Arizona’s roster?
Whisenhunt should be thanked for his role in the most magical era of Cardinal football ever. He should not be vilified on the way out the door.
But the time for change has come.
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.