The Cardinals considered Russ Grimm when looking for a head coach, but passed him over in favor of his friend and fellow assistant in Pittsburgh, Ken Whisenhunt. The Cards ended up with Grimm anyway.
After the Steelers, who had been looking at Grimm for their own vacant coaching job, decided on Mike Tomlin instead, Whisenhunt and the Cards jumped at the chance to hire Grimm. Tuesday it became official, with the former all-pro guard of the Washington Redskins taking over as assistant head coach and offensive line coach.
“I feel fortunate to come back with Coach Whisenhunt,” Grimm said. “We have known each other for a long time. I know he wants to win. I know the goal we are shooting for and I don’t mind riding shotgun.”
With the hire, the Cardinals released holdover offensive line coach Steve Loney from his contract. The team also released holdover receivers coach Mike Wilson Tuesday.
Acquiring Grimm may be one of the most significant assistant coaching hires the franchise has made. For an offensive line that has perennially been a sore spot for the team, the Cards get a coach who has directed a Steelers’ offensive line that is consistently one of the best in the NFL.
Whisenhunt remains in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl interviewing potential staff. The Cardinals still need to hire both coordinators, a defensive line coach and most of their offensive staff.
If Whisenhunt decides to keep holdover defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast — who would seem to be the front-runner for the spot — the Cards will have three of their eight head coaching candidates on the new staff, now that Grimm is aboard.
“Adding a coach of his caliber to the staff is tremendous,” Whisenhunt said of Grimm in a statement released by the team.
Center Nick Leckey said he has talked with teammate Oliver Ross — a tackle who played for Grimm in Pittsburgh before coming to Arizona as a free agent — about Grimm.
“He sounds like a pretty good guy,” Leckey said. “And he’s been to the top, and you have to respect that.
“When a guy has done (what Grimm has done) … you definitely think, 'This guy knows what he is doing.’ He’s watching your every move, picking up on your imperfections, making you a better player.”
Grimm said he hasn’t broken down the play of his new offensive linemen yet, but there will be decisions to be made on the roster.
The biggest is still that of “Big” — left tackle Leonard Davis, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March. The team must decide whether to franchise him (for a guaranteed $11 million next season) or let him hit the open market. There have still not been any discussions about a new contract.
Ross, who has been praised in the past by Grimm, could end up with another chance to carve out a spot on the roster after two disappointing seasons with the Cards.
Grimm, however, praised the overall talent the Cards have on the line.
As for his duties as assistant head coach, Grimm said that would largely consist of helping with halftime adjustments and possibly clock management. The latter makes sense with Whisenhunt planning to call plays on offense.
As for his own chances at being the Steelers’ coach, Grimm said he never assumed he was getting the job.
“The Rooneys did their search,” Grimm said. “I respect their decision and it is time to move on.”
The move just happens to be to Arizona after all — not that he expected to be with Whisenhunt again.
“Sometimes if I plan too far ahead it seems I mess a lot of things up, so I like to take it one step at a time,” Grimm said. “Whatever happens tomorrow is tomorrow, whatever happened yesterday is done and over with.”