Ken asks via Facebook: "Hey Mike, a question has been posed in one of my NFC West forums boards, and that question is "Who is the best head coach in the NFC West?" Tough question, how would you gauge this in your opinion?"
Mike Sando: Tough one. Ken Whisenhunt took the Arizona Cardinals to a Super Bowl after that franchise suffered through decades of futility. That separates him from the others. It's easy, in retrospect, to give Kurt Warner all the credit, but a lot of people thought Warner was finished by the time Whisenhunt arrived.
Whisenhunt and his staff, including former assistant Todd Haley, helped get Warner to adopt, or at least consider their mindset, which differed quite a bit from the go-for-broke Mike Martz mindset Warner brought with him to the Cardinals. Warner was 3-12 as a starter for Arizona before Whisenhunt arrived. He was 24-18 as a starter under Whisenhunt. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin were his receivers before and after Whisenhunt's hiring, so it's not like there were massive changes to the offensive personnel to help explain the transformation.
Whisenhunt is smart. He's always impressed me with his knowledge of the rules, such as when he utilized the one allowing a free kick following a fair catch.
The New York Times recently referenced a book claiming colleges allow too many students to skate through without learning much, in part by offering easy majors. Whisenhunt has a degree in civil engineering from Georgia Tech. That is impressive.
Whisenhunt could have handled the 2010 season better, I thought, but one down year doesn't wipe out three impressive ones. He has a 4-2 postseason record and only one losing season in four years. The Cardinals posted one winning record in the 22 seasons before Whisenhunt became their head coach. That is more than coincidental.
The San Francisco 49ers' Jim Harbaugh has never coached an NFL game, so let's reserve judgment on him. The St. Louis Rams' Steve Spagnuolo has gone 1-15 and 7-9. There's a lot to like about how he handles things. He's consistent. He has a philosophy and sticks to it. Like Whisenhunt, he has helped return a sickly franchise to health. His defensive scheming has seemed solid, compensating for injuries in the secondary and at linebacker. Expectations grow now that he has a talented quarterback. The Rams must win more frequently now.
The Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll is a better coach now than he was with New England or the Jets, but he is only one season into this second NFL incarnation. Carroll admitted to making a couple game-management errors last season. He had to remind himself he wasn't at USC any longer. I like the fact that Carroll will admit a mistake, and that he has a clear philosophy.
Let's revisit this question during the 2011 season and beyond.