Ken Whisenhunt’s first game as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals came in a loss to the 49ers in San Francisco.
Did his final game with the club come with the same result against the same team in the same place?
Arizona falling in its season finale by a score of 27-13 Sunday was in no way a surprise.
Hell, the team finishing the season with a 5-11 mark isn’t that surprising, especially when you figure eight of 12 Arizona Sports 620 personalities pegged the Cardinals to finish with six or fewer wins this season.
Six times since moving to Arizona have the Cardinals finished a season 5-11, and six more times have they finished a game or two worse than that. Yet, this 5-11 season feels worse than any of those.
The 2012 Cardinals started the season with a 4-0 record.
The 2012 Cardinals have a playoff-caliber defense.
The 2012 Cardinals have talented players dotted all throughout the roster.
None of that mattered.
The 2012 Cardinals are as big of a mess as any previous iteration, with a league-worst offense and a handful of veteran leaders and key players finding their way into Whisenhunt’s doghouse.
Adrian Wilson and Darnell Dockett both caught Whisenhunt’s ire this season for different reasons, as did John Skelton and Beanie Wells.
Whether it was from mouthing off like Wells, ineffective play like Wilson and Skelton, or for whatever it was Dockett actually did in New York, the fact is the coach tried to send a message via his most important players.
It didn’t work as the mistakes, poor play and losses continued.
In fact, nothing Whisenhunt did this year worked, and it’s why the Cardinals, for the second time in three years, finished a season with just five wins, which just so happens to be, according to ESPN Stats & Info, a record in futility.
“We just got to continue to get some guys back healthy, continue to eliminate mistakes and we can be a good football team,” Whisenhunt told the Arizona Cardinals radio network after the final loss of the season.
If only it was that simple, because it obviously is not.
Every team has injuries and every player makes mistakes.
But most teams don’t suffer the type of season-crippling losing streaks the Cardinals have.
So now the Cardinals have some decisions to make, and they’re likely to be made by the time 2013 arrives. The direction the franchise chooses to go will have ramifications for many years to come.
Keep Whisenhunt — on a one-year deal, no less — and risk losing defensive coordinator Ray Horton to another team. Also say goodbye to the likes of Dockett, Wells and probably Wilson.
Part with the coach of the last six years, though, and take a risk that you can’t actually do better than the only man to ever lead the organization to the Super Bowl.
Can the Cardinals do better than Whisenhunt? We don’t know the answer to that question.
What we do know, however, is Whisenhunt has a 45-51 record in Arizona, and has compiled a mark of 18-30 in the three years since Kurt Warner retired. In that time not only have the Cardinals lost their fair share of games, but they’ve also lost considerable ground in the NFC West.
San Francisco? Better.
St. Louis? Better.
A common thread among the three teams who finished ahead of Arizona in division this season is that each hired a new coach in the time since the Cardinals last finished at the top.
The Cardinals should not only take note, but also follow suit.