Once Ken Whisenhunt talked football philosophy with Clancy Pendergast, the new Cardinals coach realized he could mesh with the team’s holdover defensive coordinator.
Whisenhunt already knew he would work well with Todd Haley, since the two had already done so with the New York Jets.
So the inevitable happened Thursday, when Whisenhunt officially named Pendergast his “new” defensive coordinator and brought in Haley — who had been with the Dallas Cowboys — to be his offensive coordinator.
Along with the hiring of assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm, the core of Whisenhunt’s staff is now in place.
“I think I learned a little bit in Pittsburgh, which (had) a good staff, you need the right mix of coaches,” Whisenhunt said. “(The Bidwills) have done a good job of, when we have identified the coaches we wanted, they got them. Russ Grimm is a great example of that.”
Whisenhunt said he didn’t want to rush hiring the rest of his staff, and acknowledged one reason so few offensive coaches had been hired was because he wanted the coordinator in place to help chose candidates.
Now he has that with Haley, who was a receivers coach and passing game coordinator with the Cowboys for three seasons under Bill Parcells.
Haley, who turns 40 next month, worked with Whisenhunt on the Jets’ staff in 2000. He was part of a Cowboys offense that ranked fifth in the NFL this past season.
All along, Whisenhunt had targeted him for the Cards’ staff, but Haley was under contract with Dallas. The Cowboys didn’t let him out until they decided to hire Jason Garrett to be their new offensive coordinator.
Even with Haley, Whisenhunt, with his own offensive coordinator background, will call plays and generally shape the offense himself.
But, said Whisenhunt, Haley’s “value (is) organizing the plan and being involved in putting it in and making sure the staff is on the same page. He gives me a crutch to lean on to maybe not be as involved as far as the planning aspect but still having time to prepare, especially calling the games.”
Whisenhunt and Haley must come up with an offense that carries with it the physical traits Whisenhunt wants but also allowing for the offensive talent of quarterback Matt Leinart and receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.
“I asked (Whisenhunt) about that, what type of offense we will run,” Leinart said. “He wants a hard-nosed running game, but he also wants to implement all sorts of fun things for me and the skill guys we got.
“I told him, 'Coach, we have two of the best receivers in the game.’ … It all goes on the personnel we have. He’s going to bring his style of football, but he made it clear to me we are going to be throwing the football as well.”
The Cardinals’ defensive players already have an idea of how Pendergast will run the show, although Whisenhunt’s failure to officially announce Pendergast’s hiring cast doubt on whether Pendergast would stay.
Whisenhunt called that an “oversight” Thursday, saying he has known for a while Pendergast would be his defensive coordinator. Pendergast, who has held the same position since Dennis Green hired him in 2004, has already been part of the process in hiring defensive assistants.
“I think (Pendergast) is an extremely bright young coach, and the value of continuity on defense is a good thing,” Whisenhunt said.
The Cardinals’ defense ranked 12th in 2004 and eighth in 2005 but fell to 29th last season. Whisenhunt said part of his discussions with Pendergast were about the drop-off. Asked about Pendergast’s answers, Whisenhunt said he preferred for the reasons to stay in-house but added he was comfortable with what Pendergast said.
Pendergast’s appearance on the staff means the Cards ended up with three of their head coaching candidates — Pendergast, Whisenhunt and Grimm — on staff.
Defensive quality control coach Rick Courtright, the final holdover coach from Green’s staff, is expected to remain with Pendergast.