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What Charles Barkley can teach us about Ken Whisenhunt

It would be a better column if I could remember the exact date. I could cheat and look it up but I won’t. So the story alone — absent of the hard-core facts — will have to do.

At halftime of Game 1 of the 1996 NBA Finals between the Seattle Sonics and Chicago Bulls, Charles Barkley shredded the Phoenix Suns organization and demanded a trade. Do you remember that night?

The next day the entire Valley was consumed with conversation and debate. Was Barkley right to call out the team? Was it time to get rid of the bum?

One thing was certain: That was it. No more encores. Time to turn on the house lights so the crowd could file out.

The Barkley years were over.

(Side note: After being traded to the Rockets he said “I called the shots… When push comes to shove I think you have to stand up to the system.”)

Sunday night, albeit under an entirely different set of circumstances, feels exactly the same. It feels like the Ken Whisenhunt era is about to end. Needs to end. Perhaps, by the time you read this, it has ended, I don’t know.

I’m not sure what I could write that could tell the story more than simply reiterating the score. 58-0. Honestly, what else do you require? The turnovers. The worst quarterback situation in the league. A defense that lost its will after carrying this team all year long, not to mention any lingering resentment over their fined teammate Darnell Dockett.

Here’s all I need to know: In consecutive years, the Cardinals have endured losing streaks of seven, six and now nine straight games. Coaches can’t survive that and shouldn’t survive that. For this reason alone I believe it’s time for a change.

The quarterback situation has become so unruly that Richard Bartel tweeted out during the game: “Ok…I’ll pay to play.” Then added later: “Seriously. Pay.” It go so bad that Vince Young tweeted to Larry Fitzgerald during the game: “You know I can help tell coach.”

Here is the risk as I see for the Cardinals if they don’t fire Whisenhunt; they’ll be branded as (all together now) the same old Cardinals. Too cheap to do the right thing and unwilling to eat the $5.5 million or so owed to Whisenhunt for the last year of his contract.

If they keep him, the team can spin it however they’d like, perhaps it would even be the truth. It won’t matter. Old perceptions live long and die hard for this organization.

As I mentioned, the Barkley story isn’t a perfect comparison. I went to bed on that June evening pissed off that he wanted out. But looking back on it, it was time.

It was time for him to go. And saying that doesn’t diminish all the great and wonderful things he did for this city and that team. He made Phoenix Suns basketball matter in a way that it never had before. He was a rock star in every way, the biggest rock star in the sport once Jordan left, and he was ours. Acknowledging his time had come and gone doesn’t weaken any of that. Barkley was ready to move on, and even though we didn’t recognize it at the time, frankly we were too. Barkley’s last year here was a boring 41-41 campaign that ended with a first round nose dive against the Spurs. The era was over whether we were ready for it to be over or not.

In many regards the same can be said for Ken Whisenhunt. He’s a terrific coach and a smart man. He brought discipline, structure and a this-is-how-the-NFL-works temperament to a delinquent organization. He led the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl for goodness sakes.

His team was just over two minutes away from winning the damn thing. Like Barkley, Whisenhunt was the ultimate tour guide taking this city to places previously thought unimaginable. How do you say goodbye to that? How can you want to say goodbye to that?

I can almost guarantee; whatever his next job is and whenever that next job happens, he’ll own it. Be great at it. I don’t doubt that for a second.

But right here, right now, for too long, this team has lost its way under Ken Whisenhunt.

It’s time.