TEMPE, Ariz.- To say the 2010 season didn’t go the way the Arizona Cardinals had planned would be a bit of an understatement.
Despite the departure of quarterback Kurt Warner, the team, coming off of back-to-back division titles, was expected to be in the playoff hunt throughout the season. Prior to the start of the season many thought Sunday’s season finale against the San Francisco 49ers would be a battle for the NFC West title. Instead, that battle will take place roughly 800 miles to the north in Seattle between the Seahawks and Rams.
The Cardinals playoff hopes died long before this week’s game and probably well before they were mathematically eliminated due to poor quarterback play, among other things.
The team will finish with a losing record for the first time in four years and miss the playoffs for the first time in two. For head coach Ken Whisenhunt it will be the first time he’s been part of a coaching staff with a losing record since 2003, when he was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ tight ends coach. That team finished 6-10, a mark the Cards hope to reach with a victory Sunday.
Even though Whisenhunt knows every coach goes through losing season, that doesn’t mean it’s something he is accustom to.
“You forget what this is like,” the head coach said. “Realistically you know you are going to go through seasons like this if you are in it long enough. We’ve been spoiled the last couple of years. I’ve been spoiled the last decade in this league with as many playoff games as I’ve been to. This is tough.”
The toughest part for him is falling short of the expectations he and his staff set out for themselves and the team.
“It’s difficult,” Whisenhunt said. “When you create expectations to have success that’s what you want. When it doesn’t go that way there’s going to be difficulties. It’s been tough. It’s been a tough year. This is obviously my first experience as a head coach of going through this. It does take a toll on you. It takes a toll on your family. It takes a toll on a lot of things. When you look at what happened last Saturday night and you win a game like that, it helps ease what you’re going through. That’s why you do it. To get a chance, on a stage like that, to play and win a game is very exciting. That’s a big part of the upside so you know there’s gotta be some times when it’s going to be tough,”
The fourth year head coach hopes the Cardinals can carry the emotion of their improbable last second win against the Dallas Cowboys into their game in San Francisco. Whisenhunt thinks the potential momentum of the team’s first two game win streak of the year could carry over into offseason workouts and lay the foundation for the 2011 season.
“Just like it happened for us in the 2007 season it propelled us into the offseason,” he said. “We came back the next year and went to the playoffs. I’m not saying going to the playoffs or having a great season is tied into how we play this game but I think there’s no question that winning the game against Dallas and playing the way we did has done tremendous amounts for our young players and our organization.”
The Cardinals may be sitting home during the playoffs but their head coach will still pay close attention to the games. It’s not for coaching purposes or even because it’s part of his job description. No, he’ll do it because he truly loves the game.
“I’ll watch the playoffs,” Whisenhunt said “I’m a fan. I like watching football. It’ll be difficult, but yeah, I’ll watch it.”
If his coaching history is any indication, this will be one of the rare occasions where he’s watching playoff football rather than coaching it.
Sports 620 KTAR’s Bryan Gibberman contributed to this report