PHOENIX (Jan. 14, 2007) -- Ken Whisenhunt helped the Pittsburgh Steelers and their young quarterback win a Super Bowl.
Now he will take over for the Arizona Cardinals, where another youngster is at the controls of the offense, but the franchise has made losing a way of life for a long, long time.
The Cardinals hired Whisenhunt, Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator, to replace head coach Dennis Green, who was fired after going 16-32 in three seasons.
The 44-year-old coach signed a four-year contract with a team option for a fifth, and is to be introduced at a news conference on Jan. 16.
"In the end, we felt that Ken was the best fit for this organization," said Rod Graves, Cardinals vice president for football operations, "and we felt that because of the leadership that he portrayed. He presented a well-organized and thorough plan moving forward. We liked it."
Whisenhunt becomes the Cardinals' eighth coach since the franchise moved to Arizona in 1988. He was one of eight candidates interviewed for the job, but one of only two who got a second interview. The other was former Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman.
He also interviewed for coaching jobs in Pittsburgh, Miami and Atlanta. Whisenhunt and fellow Pittsburgh assistant Russ Grimm had been considered leading candidates to replace Bill Cowher with the Steelers.
Whisenhunt's second interview with Arizona began Jan. 12 and stretched into Jan. 13.
"It became apparent to us, particularly when we got into the second phase of our interview process, that Ken began to separate himself from the other candidates," Graves said.
The new coach inherits plenty of young talent, including quarterback Matt Leinart and a pair of the top receivers in the NFL, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. However, he also joins a franchise with a legacy of losing unprecedented in this era of NFL parity.
The Cardinals have had one winning season -- and one playoff appearance -- since 1984. They have one playoff victory since winning the NFL championship in 1947.
Owner Bill Bidwill and son Michael, the Cardinals' vice president and general counsel, joined Graves in conducting the interviews. The Cardinals insist they are intent on putting a winning team in their new stadium, pointing to the free agent acquisition of running back Edgerrin James and contract extensions to Boldin, Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson and several other of their best young players.
At Pittsburgh, Whisenhunt helped develop Ben Roethlisberger into an immediate success. He has another talented pupil now in Leinart.
"Young quarterbacks that have a bright future like he does are hard to find," Whisenhunt said after his initial interview with the Cardinals on Jan. 5. "They don't grow on trees. That's an exciting part of this organization."
Whisenhunt spent six years on Cowher's staff, three as tight ends coach and three as offensive coordinator. He also had assistant coaching stints with the New York Jets, Cleveland and Baltimore. He played in the NFL for nine seasons with Atlanta, Washington and the Jets.
In his second season as coordinator, the Steelers won the Super Bowl, averaging 26.8 points per game in the playoffs. This season, Pittsburgh's offense ranked seventh in the NFL, ninth in passing and 10th in rushing.
"I think he's capable of strong and dynamic leadership for this football team," Graves said, "and that's what intrigued us."
Graves brushed aside reports the Cardinals were going to hire Sherman, but couldn't agree to terms.
"There were a lot of rumors circulating about what was taking place during our interview process," he said. "Quite frankly, a lot of those reports were misleading and false. The truth of the matter is we only offered the job one time and it was to the person we selected."
After his first interview, Whisenhunt said wherever he wound up, he would use the Steelers as a model.
"I think for me coming from Pittsburgh and understanding how we did things gives me a bit of a game plan in order to understand how I would like to approach the thing," he said.
The other candidates interviewed by the Cardinals were Grimm, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow, Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, Indianapolis Colts assistant head coach-quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell and Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
Pendergast was one of several assistants retained by the Cardinals pending the hiring of a new coach.