As Buffalo Bills fans continue to monitor the NFL head coaching rumor mill, we're starting the process of learning a bit more about the five coaches that have interviewed (or will soon interview) for Buffalo's vacancy.
The first coach that Buffalo's search committee - which includes Russ Brandon, Buddy Nix, Doug Whaley and Jim Overdorf - interviewed on Wednesday was former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt. As we're east coasters and don't get to see Arizona play too often, Jess Root - who runs SB Nation's Cardinals blog, Revenge of the Birds - would know a heck of a lot more about these two men than any of us. I asked him to provide us with a little intel on the coach they call "Whiz," and he kindly obliged.
Whisenhunt remains the assumed front-runner for the job since a New Year's Day report from Tim Graham first surfaced. I asked Root if he was surprised that Whisenhunt, the winningest coach in Cardinals franchise history, was fired after six seasons on the job.
"I was not surprised. But then again, I would not have been surprised had he been retained," Root told me. "He had earned himself time with the Super Bowl run, but two 5-11 seasons in the last three years and three seasons in a row with six-game losing streaks (two were seven-gamers), plus the mess at quarterback since Kurt Warner retired, (sealed his fate)."
Root also made sure to point out that when Whisenhunt signed a contract extension in February of 2010 - following the team's Super Bowl appearance - he was given final say in personnel decisions. "The lack of talent is on him, to a great extent," Root said, while offering the following caveat about the quarterback position.
"Of course, with the quarterback situation, Warner's retirement really made a mess," Root continued. "The team expected him to play again in 2010. Matt Leinart never had the trust or support of Whisenhunt, which led to his being cut. Derek Anderson was just there. Whiz wanted the team to bring in Marc Bulger when the Rams finally cut him loose, but because they already had Leinart and had signed Anderson, they refused. Injuries played their role, too, as Kevin Kolb suffered season-ending injuries two straight years."
One of the big sticking points with Bills fans about departed head coach Chan Gailey was his apparent unwillingness to delegate offensive play-calling duties to his offensive coordinator. While Whisenhunt has called plays himself in the past, he's also delegated that responsibility at certain points.
"In 2007 with Todd Haley on his staff, Whiz called the plays. Haley called the plays in 2008 for the Super Bowl run," Root explained. "After Haley left in 2009, Whisenunt did not have an offensive coordinator, and he called all the plays for a 10-6 team with a playoff win. He named Mike Miller as the coordinator in 2010, but still called plays. In 2011, at some point he turned over some play-calling duties to Miller, and Miller - with input from Whiz - called plays in 2012."
Whisenhunt, 50, was 45-51 in his six seasons in Arizona. In his first three seasons - all of which included Warner - the Cardinals were 27-21 in the regular season, made the playoffs twice, were 4-2 in playoff games and lost Super Bowl XLIII to his former employers, the Pittsburgh Steelers. After Warner retired, Whisenhunt's Cardinals went 18-30 between 2010 and 2012 - putting him just two games ahead of Gailey and the Bills in that time frame.