There were some raised eyebrows among Cleveland Browns followers when word broke that Ken Whisenhunt would, for the second year in a row, interview to be the team’s coach.
Whisenhunt’s résumé is strong. He had an excellent run as the Steelers' offensive coordinator before being hired in Arizona to coach the Cardinals.
In his second season, Arizona went to the Super Bowl, in the third to the playoffs.
Good coaches can have bad years, though, and that happened to Whisenhunt. If coaches such as Josh McDaniels and Adam Gase earn interviews for their work with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, respectively, Whisenhunt earned it with success and on-the-job experience. He’s Lovie Smith, except his focus is offense.
A year ago, word was that he backed out of the Browns job when the front office insisted on certain control over coaching hires. That word was never confirmed, but there was a point when Whisenhunt was talking a second time with the Browns when talks stopped.
The other reason it’s surprising is Joe Banner said he didn’t anticipate interviewing candidates from last year's search (Do other teams even have to say these things?). Banner didn’t guarantee that, of course, so he’s not locked into it one way or the other.
Whisenhunt also will interview in Detroit and Tennessee.
Let’s try to answer some of the common questions about him and this interview:
Why would he interview?
Pretty simple. He wants to be a head coach again. He enjoyed it, thought he did a better job than given credit for and he wants another chance.
Why interview again with the Browns?
See answer above, then consider there are only 32 of these jobs and if you don’t at least give yourself a chance the job will go to someone else. Add in that Whisenhunt is 51, and as time goes on these opportunities will not be as prevalent.
What about Detroit?
Some folks in the league believe that job is far more appealing to Whisenhunt than Cleveland. While it might sound appealing to say the new Browns coach has a say in picking the new quarterback, it’s still risky. No coach prefers picking someone new and raw when he can coach a guy like Stafford, who should be among the best in the league. Add Calvin Johnson to the mix, a defensive line that has immense talent and a high draft pick and the Lions job simply has more to offer.
What are his qualifications?
Pick the cliché. Leader of men. Proven winner. Player’s coach. Whatever. The guy did an excellent job in Pittsburgh, then took the Cardinals to the Super Bowl. He’s helped Philip Rivers have an excellent season. He’s been a head coach. Given the pool, his résumé stands out.
Why would he be a positive for the Browns?
First, he may actually bring a little bit of continuity. He and Ray Horton worked together in Arizona and Pittsburgh; it’s conceivable he’d keep Horton as defensive coordinator. If he didn’t, he’s always wanted to hire Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler. He too would run the Dick LeBeau system. Offensively, Whisenhunt would call the plays, so Norv Turner probably would not stay. But at least Whisenhunt would keep the 3-4 defense and run a similar system to the one the Browns have been dedicated to for a year. Second, he’s worked with Larry Fitzgerald and Hines Ward, which can’t hurt Josh Gordon. Third, he knows the Steelers as well as anyone, and if you want to beat the Steelers who better to help beat Cleveland’s No. 1 tormentor than someone who knows them?
What would it come down to?
Coaches want to work in an environment where the team matters to the community (check) and where they feel comfortable with the people around them. Being in a good working environment is the key to succeeding.
Whether Whisenhunt will feel comfortable about the Browns is the great unanswerable question.