Just over a year ago, Ken Whisenhunt was discovering that as a head coach, football employment isn’t fair. Surely that was knowledge he already had, but to truly know that life hates you, sometimes you need to live through certain moments.
With his mighty fine Arizona Cardinals defense (one that improved even further this year without him following the addition of John Abraham), offensively all he needed was something above average. And to accomplish that, even a quarterback who was slightly below average would have been sufficient, as long as he could deliver deep balls to Larry Fitzgerald with some sort of consistency.
And Whisenhunt was coaxing that out of Kevin Kolb, the former offseason prize who was horrible enough to lose a training camp competition to John Skelton, only to be re-inserted when he went down in Week 1. Four straight wins to start the season, and all was glistening in the desert, especially when one of those came over the Patriots in Week 2, and that peachy optimism remained even after two losses. A 4-2 team with Kolb as its quarterback? Must have been some of that mystical head coach pixie dust.
Then Kolb’s rib injury happened. Then Skelton, Ryan Lindley, and Brian Hoyer happened, with two journeymen and a sixth-round rookie combining to start 10 games. Then losing happened, 10 times, and for Whisenhunt the most unfortunate and undeserved unemployment happened.
But then San Diego happened, and the Philip Rivers resurrection tour happened. And now for Whisenhunt, Tennessee has happened.
Head coaches are aware that when their vessel is descending to the ocean floor, they’re the first ones off the plank. They are the sacrifice, and the first swift change following a season which began with four straight wins, and ended with 10 straight losses. But although that is indeed the natural order of things and the Cards are just fine now under Bruce Arians (and that desired average QB play from Carson Palmer), given what Whisenhunt — an offensive-minded head coach — dealt with at quarterback in Arizona, his firing and one-year exile from the head coach brotherhood felt unjust.
Now, after a year righting wrongs in San Diego, the Whiz gets another shot at success as the Titans’ head coach boss man. This time, though, his quarterback is high on promise, and low on results. Sounds pretty Kolb-ish.
Whisenhunt is known for being both a fine offensive mind and a great quarterback tutor. But of his three successes that fit the latter description, two of them were veterans who had lost their way, and prior to that disorientation they were well-established and proven. They were Kurt Warner, Whisenhunt’s Super Bowl quarterback in 2008 after he was exiled from St. Louis and New York, and most recently Rivers, who thrived despite an offensive line and wide receiver corps torn apart by injuries. The exception is Ben Roethlisberger, who Whisenhunt coached up in Pittsburgh as an offensive coordinator, culminating in some 2006 Super Bowl jewelry.
Under Whisenhunt and new head coach Mike McCoy, Rivers’ completion percentage jumped over five points during the 2013 regular season, his yards per attempt climbed by over a full yard (6.8 to 8.2), his overall yardage ascended swiftly too (3,606 to 4,478), and his passer rating rose by nearly 20 points. Whisenhunt took the 24th-ranked offense in 2012, and turned it into the 10th-ranked unit in 2013, even with top receiver Danario Alexander crumbling early in training camp. Even better, the Chargers’ passing offense went from 15th to fourth.
But does he have enough quarterback pixie dust for Jake Locker? Surely he’ll requires massive shipments of the stuff.
In fairness to Locker, he’s had horribly brutal luck. Each of his first two seasons as a full-time starter has been cut short, as he’s missed 14 games during that time. This past season he started only seven games before suffering a Lisfranc injury, and they’re the worst. However, briefly he flashed, well, something over the first five games, a stretch when he didn’t throw an interception. That alone was an accomplishment for a quarterback who had thrown more of those than touchdowns the previous season.
Locker’s problem is rooted in inconsistency, and erratic throwing. Often, he wants to break loose from the pocket far too quickly, a problem Whisenhunt hasn’t dealt with quite as much (or at least not recently) because all of the aforementioned Whiz QBs were/are quite statuesque.
So that’s the challenge which lies ahead now for Whisenhunt. But unlike his two most significant quarterback recoveries, this is one where he has to find something that may or may not be there, instead of locating greatness which once existed. Just like in Arizona, he has a fine defense, and an abundance of youthful offensive weapons.
He just might not have the quarterback.
More notes, reading, stray thoughts, and other such randomness
What the hell, Earl Thomas?
Much like you, I love Earl Thomas, and think he’s just the greatest. But the thing about being a hard hitting safety is that the camera often only picks up those booms, and not the massive coverage herp derps…
What on earth was Earl Thomas doing on the TD to Colston? Froze in place as ball went right over him. pic.twitter.com/HDI8vYj4UN
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) January 13, 2014
You’ve likely seen this elsewhere, because that’s how this whole viral Internet thing works. But if not, Sunday a San Francisco pastor knew his priorities.
The Colston play wasn’t a mistake
Well, the throw certainly was, because there’s no other way to describe an intended backwards pass that travels forward, oh, five yards. But the play call was very real, and Colston didn’t act on his own.
Tell us why you made that call, Sean Payton:
“Marques has got a pretty good arm. You know, in hindsight, [it was] a play where he could have caught it, stepped out and then maybe [we throw] a Hail Mary to the end zone. But it was a play we had put in a week and a half ago, prior to this game, which was a deep throw to Marques and then across the field.”
With the way Colston turned abruptly and immediately after making the catch, it looked as though the play could have been a designed one. But I refused to believe that at the time, because although the Saints’ chances of winning (or even tying) the game were slim regardless of the play call, they were far better with a Hail Mary heave after a step out of bounds than they would have been with twisted trickery, even if Colston executed properly.
Watch the replay again. Colston was asked to attempt a cross-field pass that would have had to go over the head of a Seahawks defender (Chris Clemons), with cornerback Byron Maxwell closing in.
But that was the call, and it’s one Payton regrets now.