While watching the replay of Super Bowl XLIII late last night on NFL Network, Florio Jr. saw a shot of Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt on the sideline and asked, “Whatever happened to him?”
It took some time to explain it. When Kurt Warner retired after the 2009 season, the Cardinals struggled at quarterback in 2010, went all in for Kevin Kolb in 2011, and nothing worked. After 2012, the Cardinals fired Whisenhunt, who matched Jim Hanifan as the longest-tenured coach in franchise history.
A year in San Diego as offensive coordinator got Whisenhunt another head-coaching job, in Tennessee. But then Whisenhunt got not nearly enough time with a potential franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota before being dumped, again.
Whisenhunt is now back in San Diego, as offensive coordinator. And while he’s been reunited with a true franchise quarterback, Whisenhunt knows that success requires more than a competent passing game. Whisenhunt recently told his new-old team’s official website that the top priority for 2016 will be developing a strong running game.
“[T]he one thing that stands out is we need to run the football better than we did last year,” Whisenhunt said. “There is no blame associated there, as there are always factors that are involved. But that is probably the biggest thing we have to do, because then your play action builds off of that, your time of possession increases where you can control the ball and you are in better third-down situations. All of those things tie in together. Now, it’s hard to say you can improve on all of those things significantly in the offseason because there are no pads, but I think you can lay the groundwork for what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. That will carry over into training camp. . . . You can do so many things when you are blessed with a quarterback like Philip Rivers. We’ve got to be able to do things that will complement him, and a good running game is one of those that we have to get better at.”
Whisenhunt is counting on 2015 first-rounder Melvin Gordon to develop into a solid option. Whisenhunt said he’s not panicking about Gordon’s fumbling issues, pointing to Tiki Barber as a guy who overcame those struggles.
“The important thing for us is what does [Gordon] do well from a run game perspective?” Whisenhunt said. “Is it a power/counter scheme, or is it a zone scheme? What are his strengths, and how do they fit with us? How can we put him in those situations? I think it is important he gets reps, and comfortable with the courses he is taking. Last year, he didn’t get a chance to be exposed to that, so it will be easier for him with us having him for the whole offseason. He is also a good receiver, and catches the ball well out of the backfield. I’m excited about what he is going to be, and I am looking forward to that.”
Chargers fans have been looking forward to it for nearly a year, and if Whisenhunt can unlock it he could lay the foundation for a third shot at coaching a team of his own.