Wisenhunt on the radar

If Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan whispers into the ear of Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt after today's AFC Championship game, it'll be easy to figure out what he's saying:

"Stay away from Al Davis and the Raiders."

Whisenhunt is believed to be a candidate to become the next head coach of the Oakland Raiders. After the St. Louis Rams hired Scott Linehan, the job is probably Whisenhunt's only remaining opportunity.

The San Jose Mercury News pondered the question late this week.

"Good luck," wrote one columnist, "because we all know Al picks his coach last and fires him first."

After firing Norv Turner, Davis is looking for his sixth coach since hiring Mike White in 1995. Davis has had trouble luring top coaches because, as the Sacramento Bee put it yesterday, he's "an over-the-top control freak."

Shanahan was one of the lucky few to escape with his reputation intact. A fast-rising young defensive coordinator in 1989, Shanahan left the Raiders for his first job with the Broncos. Since then, he's disparaged Davis at almost every turn and beaten him nearly as often (17-5).

Whisenhunt would certainly receive other opportunities if he waits. Last week's game plan alone elevated his stock. ESPN.com's star reporter, Len Pasquarelli, said Whisenhunt has been "in a zone" the last two playoff games.

"I don't know about that," Whisenhunt said. "I just think the guys have been making plays. It's as simple as that."

Against the heavily-favored Indianapolis Colts, Whisenhunt courageously called a pass-first game against a team with the league's best pass-rusher in the league's noisiest stadium. The potential for Steelers mistakes was large.

"We talked about it and thought it was going to be the right thing to do against those guys, especially after having played them," he said. "I felt good about Ben (Roethlisberger), especially the way he's performed the last couple of weeks. And our receivers have been working hard. We like to think we can do those kinds of things if we feel like we need to. We thought it was the right time."

Whisenhunt said his confidence in Roethlisberger grew during one of his worst games. At Heinz Field against the Cincinnati Bengals, Roethlisberger was intercepted three times in a 38-31 loss.

"We knew going into that game they were going to try to stop the run, and we felt we had a pretty good plan throwing the football," Whisenhunt said. "He threw for 300-and-whatever yards, so we felt good about him throwing the ball. And he's never been one to turn the ball over a lot, so that was more of an unusual situation."

Whisenhunt mentioned his plans for the Colts game to coach Bill Cowher early last week.

"He said, ‘I like that. I think that's what we have to do,'" Whisenhunt said. "He was good with being aggressive with it. It's good when you've got a head coach who allows you to do that."

Remember that when Al Davis calls.

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