Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, here congratulating J.J. Arrington during the Dallas win, will be the longest-tenured NFC West coach once the season ends.
Soon – as in less than three months from now – Ken Whisenhunt is going to be the dean of NFC West coaches.
It's stunning in some respects, that a coach hired before the 2007 season would be the longest-tenured. But it was clear before the season both Mike Nolan in San Francisco and Scott Linehan in St. Louis were in trouble and they were unlikely to last until 2009.
(That said, to have both canned during the season, with Nolan being dumped Monday, was a surprise. In-season changes rarely create much improvement.)
Throw in the fact everyone already knew the current top of the list, longtime
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, was stepping down at the end of the season. Whisenhunt was probably positioned well from the start.
Whisenhunt has been one of the linchpins to an organization long searching for successful stability. It's early in his second season, but the Cardinals seem to be changing into a franchise that can compete on a yearly basis. Whisenhunt doesn't coach in a vacuum – front-office decisions about personnel will always affect the on-field product – but he came from a franchise (Pittsburgh) that was able to stay competitive even while letting certain key players go instead of constantly paying huge contracts.
Maybe – and again, it's early – Whisenhunt does have a Bill Cowher-type tenure brewing in Arizona. If that's true, the Cards have a chance to be the front-runners in the NFC West for awhile.
Organizationally, the 49ers are far removed from what they were when they were winning Super Bowls. They are headed for another rebuilding mode and search for a quarterback (I would guess offensive coordinator Mike Martz won't be around beyond this year since he isn't the new head coach).
The Seahawks have Jim Mora coming in to be their head coach, and Mora isn't Holmgren. Starting over next season with players healthy will automatically make Seattle better, but the offensive line isn't what it once was and the defense has been disappointing.
That leaves the Rams. The same Rams who were considered by many the worst team in the NFL through Linehan's final game but are now unbelievably in second place after new coach Jim Haslett has sparked them to two straight wins. The rumor is that Haslett will keep the job if he can get six wins (which would mean St. Louis goes .500 under his control).
Some even think the Rams, with both games left against Arizona, can push for the division title. We'll see. The win in Washington was fluky (the Redskins outgained the Rams 368 yards to 200 but gave away points on turnovers). The win over the Cowboys, while impressive, was not against the same Dallas team the Cards beat. Brad Johnson is not Tony Romo.
Does all that mean the Whisenhunt era will be glorious in Arizona? Only results can prove that. It looks promising. But as Whisenhunt noted Monday, the NFL "changes week to week." Predicting year-to-year is foolish.
18 IS THE NUMBER
The NFL is seriously considering an 18-game regular-season schedule, although it couldn't kick in before 2010. There are collective bargaining issues to overcome, but it's been something commissioner Roger Goodell has favored in lieu of playing four meaningless preseason games.
As far as those directly affected – coaches and players – there seemed to be a feeling like it would be OK. Whisenhunt acknowledged he, like every coach, likes having four preseason games to evaluate the roster. But he also called the possibility of an 18-game slate "exciting."
"Listen, ownership in this league has done a great job of putting a good product on the field for a long time. That's why there is such great fan interest," Whisenhunt said.
Whisenhunt saw it first-hand during the bye weekend, when he and his wife went to Zipps Sports Grill in Chandler to have lunch and were overwhelmed by the crowd taking in all the NFL games.
"Seeing the crowd and seeing how people react, it's a tribute to (former commissioners) Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue and the owners as far as bringing this game along," Whisenhunt said. "It's not a snap decision and I am sure based on their track record, it will be a good decision."
Guard Reggie Wells said he didn't think going from 16 to 18 games would be that big of a deal, and as for the increased chances of a veteran player getting hurt with two more games, "I'd hate to say it would be more justified to get hurt in regular season rather than preseason but as a player, you'd almost rather it would be in a game that meant something for the playoffs."
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said it would definitely take away the chance of younger, untested players to be developed. But, Fitzgerald added, he wouldn't mind an 18-game schedule – "as long as the salary cap goes up."
Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner has completed 70 percent of his passes this season to lead the NFL in that category.
The Cards lead the NFL with their 29.5-points-per-game average.
Of the 51 teams that have started 4-2 in a season since 2001, 28 of them have made the playoffs. Teams that have started 4-2 have averaged 9.4 victories in that time frame.
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 10/21/08.
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