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Whisenhunt sets tone for incredible Cardinals

Whisenhunt sets tone for incredible Cardinals

The man who performed a gridiron exorcism in the desert is keeping his cool with his Arizona Cardinals a win away from the Super Bowl.
Then again, coach Ken Whisenhunt just about always keeps his cool.
The Cardinals never have been here before, but Whisenhunt has. He was offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers before taking on the formidable challenge of coaching the NFL's laughingstock of a franchise.
No one's laughing now, except maybe in disbelief. Whisenhunt brought Steelers toughness and an organized, unflappable style. He didn't get one vote for coach of the year this season. If the balloting had waited a few weeks, no doubt he would.
"You go how your leader goes," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "He deserves a tremendous amount of credit, most importantly for bringing in a belief that we could accomplish something that had never been done before."
This week, Whisenhunt again is leading his team through uncharted territory. After all, Arizona's 9-7 record marked only their second winning season since 1984. They hosted Atlanta in a wild-card playoff game that was the Cardinals' first at home since they beat Philadelphia to win the NFL title 61 years ago. As the Chicago Cardinals.
Now it's Philadelphia again on Sunday for the NFC Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl in Tampa. The 45-year-old coach from Augusta, Georgia is trying to keep his players from getting too carried away with the moment.
"Anytime you get to this level, whether you're an assistant coach, whether you're a player, whether you're whatever, it's a fantastic feeling," Whisenhunt said. "But you don't want to get so wrapped up in that that you don't realize this is an important game for us and we have to keep our focus on that."
Asked what the biggest areas of concern were, Whisenhunt said "dealing with distractions."
"You also have to handle not getting too big for your britches," he said. "When the 32-team field gets down to four teams and all that attention comes to you, a lot of times guys start feeling they're a little better than they are, maybe losing that work ethic that got them to that point."
Whisenhunt had to rely on that work ethic to make it as a tight end in the NFL after being drafted in the 12th round by Atlanta out of Georgia Tech in 1985. He played from 1985 to 1993 with Atlanta, Washington and the New York Jets before turning to coaching.
He had stops as an assistant for Baltimore, Cleveland and the Jets before joining Bill Cowher's staff at Pittsburgh as tight ends coach in 2001. He moved up to offensive coordinator in 2004.
Passed over for the Steelers coach job, he came to Arizona and went 8-8 in his first season, then won the NFC West title in his second. Along the way, he has made some difficult decisions, most significantly making Warner the starting quarterback over Matt Leinart this season.
Whisenhunt wanted a strong staff, and the Cardinals' front office allowed him to spend some money to get one that includes his former Steelers colleague Russ Grimm as associate head coach and offensive line coach; Todd Haley as offensive coordinator; and John Lott as strength and conditioning coach. He retained defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast from Dennis Green's Arizona staff.
On the sideline, he rarely shows much emotion, studying his clipboard and talking calmly on his headset. He has let his feelings show at times as the games grew more important.
After the playoff victories at home against Atlanta and on the road at Carolina, he ran along the stadium front row slapping hands with Cardinals fans.
Whisenhunt's demeanor, and that of the ex-Super Bowl champion and MVP Warner, keep a mostly young team steady, fullback Terrelle Smith said. Whisenhunt is low-key normally, Smith said, and even more low-key when things go bad. He's got a staff that can make up for it, especially the vociferous Haley.
Whisenhunt said he learned from Cowher not to get caught up thinking about how far the team has come. As usual, he's homed in on the task at hand.
"I've had the great fortune of being in this game a number of times, in the championship game, and being in the Super Bowl and I know how special it is," Whisenhunt said. "My focus right now is really on trying to do the best job we can do this week to play well and hopefully advance."


Updated : 2020-12-03 19:38 GMT+08:00