Tis the season to blame coaches, and some of them are roasted on an open fire; but some are simply attempts to clear slates for a fresh start in the new year.
Speculation became fact in the cases of several NFL clubs on Black Monday, the first day following the end of the regular season when ownerships tend to cut ties with unsuccessful coaching regimes, as multiple head coaches and executives lost their jobs. None were heard louder in Pittsburgh, than the firing of former Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt from the Arizona Cardinals.
Current Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley served in the same role under Whisenhunt, where in 2008, Whisenhunt and Haley took the perpetually pitiful Cardinals to the Super Bowl, which they lost to Pittsburgh coincidentally. Haley's name continues to be considered as the top candidate to be Whisenhunt's replacement, as the Cardinals ownership still speaks fondly of Haley in regards to his time with the organization. Haley has already voiced his opinion on the subject - he loves the city of Pittsburgh and the Steelers, and he enjoys being a coordinator rather than a head coach. Haley is a Pittsburgh native, and has family ties to the Steeler organization. If Haley has been honest with the media this season, he has no intentions on being anywhere than where he is; but desperate ownerships make desperate offers when they are taking desperate measures. Sometimes money talks louder than all else.
Mixed opinions on Haley's first season as offensive coordinator for the Steelers, have ricocheted between the media and the fan base striking targets on both sides of the fence. While Haley's promise for quarterback safety and clock control held true for the first half of the season, a sudden turn of events resulting in the loss of Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, Antonio Brown, Rashard Mendenhall, Jerricho Cotchery, Ike Taylor, Mike Adams and Willie Colon laid waste to Haley's best laid plans. Some feel he showed an inability to adapt his offense or coexist with a franchise quarterback as new systems were implanted.
Niether the Steelers ownership, nor head coach Mike Tomlin have voiced any displeasure over Haley's services rendered. If Haley leaves, it will be of his choice and of the head coaching variety, most likely. Arizona would be as good of a place as any, except that it's offense is missing something Haley already has in Pittsburgh - a qualified franchise quarterback.
Whisenhunt, and GM Rod Graves who was also a part of Arizona's Super Bowl XLIII appearance, was fired for gambling his coaching reputation on a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for Kevin Kolb. Kolb only returned injury, followed by poor performance, followed by injury, and then more poor performances. John Skelton found time in his absences, as have Max Hall and Ryan Lindley among others, securing starts over Kolb only to lose the job again due to injury or poor performance. Larry Fitzgerald, prized receiver for the Cardinals, has witnessed a gradual decline in his statistics and targets, as Arizona continues to find an answer to their offensive woes.
Whoever takes over for the Cardinals, whether its Haley or not, will have to address the QB position immediately. Fortunately for the future head coach, the Cardinals losing effort in 2012 will earn them a high selection in the 2013 draft.
If Haley does leave to coach the Cardinals back out of the basement, the Steelers will be on the search for its third offensive coordinator in three seasons. For an offense which has showed inconsistency along those seasons, installing yet another playbook may only prolong progress potential. Whisenhunt could be coincidentally considered as an option to replace Haley should he choose to leave, although it seems unlikely. When former head coach Bill Cowher stepped down and walked away from the Steelers, Whisenhunt and fellow Cardinals coach Russ Grimm were considered heavy favorites for promotion. The team instead went with Mike Tomlin, who is still in Pittsburgh, and looks to be for a while after recently signing an extension with the team prior to the season.
Whisenhunt and Grimm in turn left for Arizona, and turned in a record of 45 wins and 51 losses in six seasons. Grimm, while possibly still an option for the Cardinals to replace Whisenhunt, is also unemployed - as was the entire offensive coaching staff - after leading the Cardinals offensive line to one of its worst seasons yet, contributing to the QB carousel through lack of protection. As the Steelers look to replace former offensive line coach Sean Kugler as he leaves to become the new UTEP head coach, Grimm would be an excellent candidate. Although, Grimm would have to swallow the same pride Whisenhunt would to consider returning to PIttsburgh where both felt shunned six years ago. Grimm was a large part of the Steelers success under Cowher's tenure, when the offensive lines were as perennially dominant as the Steelers renowned defense.
Another top prospect for the head coaching position in Arizona is former Steelers assistant coach Ray Horton, who was the Cardinals defensive coordinator under Whisenhunt. The Cardinals have also contacted the Denver Broncos, and were granted permission, to speak to offensive coordinator Mike McCoy about the head coaching vacancy.
There will be weeks of interviews for all prospective candidates for all vacancies across the league before any answers will be made available, and there are still plenty of head and assistant coaches still steeping in the hot seat.