Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL. That's a staggering fact for more than one reason. To put it in perspective, Whisenhunt makes more than New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin and Andy Reid, who's seemingly been around forever with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Comparably speaking, Whisenhunt is still relatively unproven. Yes, he's taken advantage of weak NFC West division, cashing in on two playoff appearances while reaching the Super Bowl in the 2008 season. But his body of work isn't in the same league as coaches such as Coughlin or Reid mentioned above.
During that Super Bowl run in 2008, Arizona managed a record of only 9-7 in the regular season. They prevailed in three postseason games as underdogs. Was it a fluke? Maybe, maybe not. The Cardinals followed it up with another playoff appearance in 2009 but if this year's trend of miserable play continues 'fluke' will become a common word in the desert.
Given the Cardinals' refusal to financially commit to its best players, investing so much in a head coach is a puzzling decision. After all, it's the players who ultimately make the difference between winning and losing.
Sure, Whisenhunt has done a nice job since arriving in Arizona but with the quality of more tenured – and more successful – coaches around the league, it comes as a surprise to see Whisenhunt so far up on the totem pole.
Timing is everything, and Whisenhunt is a prime example.
The Cardinals' Super Bowl berth couldn't have come at a better time for Whisenhunt. Following the Dennis Green era, there was nowhere to go but up. Whisenhunt guided the Cardinals to records of 8-8 and 9-7 in his first two seasons. The real breakout came when the Cardinals were oh so close to winning Super Bowl XLIII against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite the strides made in Whisenhunt's first three seasons, it all came crashing down in 2010.
Coming off a 5-11 campaign – with nothing as of now to spark a quick turnaround – another subpar season could leave Whisenhunt due for a pay cut – and possibly new employment all together.
Whisenhunt has burned through defensive coordinators like Johnny Cash burning through cigarettes (he's on his third since taking over as head coach in 2007). Furthermore, Whisenhunt refused to hire an offensive coordinator following the departure of Todd Haley. Whisenhunt doubled as offensive coordinator up until earlier this week when Mike Miller was promoted to take on the role following a pathetic offensive showing this year.
So, why has the Cardinals' brass ponied up so much money for the head coach but not its players? That's an excellent question with no apparent answer.
Arizona had loads of momentum heading into this season. Two straight division titles, consecutive playoff appearances, a near miss in the Super Bowl. So what happened? That's easy: the Cardinals' front office let big names leave via free agency (Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle), traded Anquan Boldin and Kurt Warner retired one year ahead of schedule.
The losses above were too much to overcome and the resources opened up by the defections weren't reinvested to stay competitive – even in the weakest division in football. The Cardinals' payroll dropped to one of the lowest in the NFL. The horrible quarterback situation has been beaten to death and was downright embarrassing for a professional football team.
Arizona's roster will be hard to rejuvenate in just one season. This could be a full-on rebuilding process, particularly if a capable quarterback isn't brought in. Back-to-back sub-.500 seasons certainly look to be possible and the Cardinals will have a choice to make if that scenario pans out: continue with Whisenhunt being one of the highest paid coaches in the NFL, restructure his contract, or move in a different direction all together.
Many critical decisions are set to arise in Arizona, including the future of Whisenhunt. Another losing campaign could be the beginning of the end or at least the end of Whisenhunt being among the highest paid coaches in the NFL.
Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at firstname.lastname@example.org
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