Coach sets tone for Cards
By Bob Baum
Associated PressTEMPE, Ariz. ó The man who performed a football exorcism in the desert is keeping his cool with his Arizona Cardinals one win away from the Super Bowl.
Then again, Ken Whisenhunt just about always keeps his cool.
The Cardinals franchise never has 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 a laughingstock.
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 before.”
This week, Whisenhunt again is leading his team through uncharted territory. After all, Arizona’s 9-7 record marked only its second winning season since 1984. It played host to Atlanta in a wild-card game that was the Cardinals’ first home playoff contest since they beat Philadelphia to win the NFL title 61 years ago ó as the Chicago Cardinals.
Now it’s Philadelphia again on Sunday for the NFC title and a trip to the Super Bowl. The 45-year-old coach from Augusta, Ga., is trying to keep his players from getting too carried away with the moment.”You have to handle not getting too big for your britches,” Whisenhunt 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 had stops as an assistant for Baltimore, Cleveland and the New York Jets before joining Bill Cowher’s staff at Pittsburgh as tight ends coach in 2001. He moved up to offensive coordinator in 2004.
Whisenhunt said he learned from Cowher not to get caught up thinking about how far the team has come.
“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.”