One note before we start this off: I’ve developed an interest in football coaches. Some might call it a “sick fascination” or “stalking obsession,” but whatever it’s called, it’s time to put it to some sort of use. The following is the first part in what will be a seven-part series detailing every NFL head coaching change of the offseason. With training camp around the corner and personnel moves already made, the time is right for an early (some might say preposterously premature) evaluation of each individual hire. Today’s focuses on the Arizona Cardinals and new coach Ken Whisenhunt.

Honestly, one of the main reasons I’m starting with Whisenhunt is that his hiring was one of those I followed least at the time. One of the reasons for that was that it was the Cardinals, generally one of the less relevant franchises in the league. However, what is “generally” the case might as well be thrown out when the right person to turn things around comes along. Therefore, the question for the Cardinals to answer: is Whisenhunt the right person? He was one of the most sought-after coaching candidates this offseason, so there are certainly more than a few people out there who think so.

There are some good signs. He comes from a successful franchise (the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was offensive coordinator) and brought another major assistant with him from Pittsburgh to Arizona (Russ Grimm). In fact, word was there were some players on the Steelers who would have liked to see Whisenhunt or Grimm replace Bill Cowher – more on the guy the Steelers DID choose in several days. The Jets’ plan of “hire a top assistant (in their case, Eric Mangini) from a good team” strategy appears to be paying off so far, and in general it seems like a smart way to go – who’s better equipped to succeed than those who have seen what works? According to this article published at the time of Whisenhunt’s hiring, the other finalist for the job was Mike Sherman, ex-Packers coach. He might have been a decent hire as well, as he had some success in Green Bay, but he was also still pretty fresh off getting fired by them. Plus, the last time the Cardinals were looking for a coach, they went after another guy coming off a pretty long stint somewhere else who had some success, but nothing phenomenal. Eventually, that guy did this.

Another positive is that even though the Cardinals are, as usual, coming off a bad year, there is talent to work with, especially on offense. Matt Leinart is a promising quarterback, and Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald are two very good receivers. Edgerrin James has had a great career, but he wasn’t as good last season as he’s been in the past, so Arizona has to be hoping their selection of offensive lineman Levi Brown in the first round of the draft can help him out. In addition, Whisenhunt smartly plans to give James a break from time to time so he doesn’t have to carry the load alone. The team’s first two draft choices this year – Brown from Penn State and Alan Branch from Michigan – attempt to shore up the offensive and defensive lines, respectively. Both of them have potential to be very good players, and the lines are good places to start when looking to improve a team – especially one that already has some talented skill position guys. I’ve seen some concerns about Branch not always playing hard, so that’s worrisome, but he has the talent.

The Cardinals aren’t cursed. No team is cursed. If there’s one thing Greg Schiano’s success at Rutgers has taught me, it’s that. It’s true, the Cardinals haven’t had much success over the years, but that can be changed. In fact, a lot of the pieces to do so are in place already, in the form of the players already mentioned. This team won’t be unsuccessful forever – someday, someone is going to come in and make them a winner. Is Whisenhunt that guy? Only time will tell, but he has a pretty decent start, having been around the Steelers franchise all those years and having talent to work with now. (Plus, his team is in a division where no one really stands out, further increasing their odds of success.) Whether he gets the job done or not, the opportunity is there, and I’ve grown to like his chances. He was smart to pay a whole lot more attention to the Cardinals than I did.

The next installment, which will hopefully be up tomorrow, will detail the Miami Dolphins and their new coach, Cam Cameron.

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