Cook: Whisenhunt the best choice for Steelers, Big Ben
Share with others:
As the Steelers start the process this weekend of looking for just their third head coach in 38 years, the indisputable benefits of staying in-house and promoting offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt need to be cited.
1. The comfort level of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
2. The opportunity to keep Dick LeBeau on staff. He's a terrific defensive coordinator.
3. The continuing development of Roethlisberger.
4. The ability to stick with LeBeau's 3-4 defense. The team's roster is built for it.
5. The maturity of Roethlisberger.
Do you detect a trend here?
So much of the Steelers' future is tied to Roethlisberger. He played well as a rookie in 2004 and they went 15-1 and made it to the AFC championship game. He played better in '05 and they won the Super Bowl. He played poorly this season and they went 8-8 and are sitting out the playoffs.
Getting Big Ben right has to be the Steelers' No. 1 resolution of the New Year. Whisenhunt is the best man to do it. No coach has worked closer with Roethlisberger since he came into the NFL. Roethlisberger clearly is comfortable with Whisenhunt. Big Ben gives the impression he's not much for welcoming change. It makes no sense to make him start over with a new coach and learn a new system. It's hard to say he works hard enough as a student of the game to master a new system quickly.
But even if Roethlisberger were another Peyton Manning, he needs stability in his life and career, now more than ever. He's coming off that lousy season, although he did play better in the second half. He had a concussion in Atlanta in October. He had the emergency appendectomy just before the season. He had the horrific motorcycle accident in June.
Roethlisberger needs a calm off-season.
It's his best chance -- not to mention the Steelers' best chance -- of playing well again next season.
Keeping LeBeau to run the defense would be a huge added plus, although the Steelers' other in-house candidate for the head job -- assistant head coach Russ Grimm -- almost certainly would keep LeBeau, as well. Who knows? Maybe a coach from outside would want LeBeau, but it's not fair to make him keep him. The new man should be able to hire his own staff, Steelers president Art Rooney II said Friday. Presumably, that means being able to play his own defense as well, even if it's a 4-3 base.
Grimm is a wonderful football man, highly respected by the Steelers' players and coaches. He wouldn't be a bad choice to replace Bill Cowher by any means. But the best choice? No. Grimm's background is with the offensive line. He doesn't have Whisenhunt's experience with quarterbacks. He would have to hire a new offensive coordinator, who would want to put in at least some of his system, which gets back to that potentially dangerous change issue with Roethlisberger.
Why risk it?
Here's the best part about Whisenhunt:
He really wants the Steelers' job.
That doesn't mean Whisenhunt doesn't have other options. He's probably the hottest candidate in the league. He interviewed last week for the jobs in Atlanta and Arizona. The Miami Dolphins asked for permission to talk to him Friday. There has been speculation Atlanta is Whisenhunt's dream job because he's from Atlanta, but that's not true. The Steelers' job is his dream job. He won't wait for it forever, but he will wait until at least Tuesday when he goes through the interview process with Rooney II, his father, Dan, and Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations.
Why shouldn't Whisenhunt want the Steelers' job?
Do you know how important stability is to an NFL coach?
Do you realize how critical a patient, supportive owner is to a coach's chances for success?
Ask Chuck Noll, who worked 23 years for the Rooneys.
Ask Cowher, who lasted 15 years.
Obviously, it's important to Whisenhunt. He turned down a chance to be the Oakland Raiders' head coach after last season because that franchise has become laughable under owner Al Davis. It turned out to be a wise move; the man who took the job -- Art Shell -- was fired Thursday after a 2-14 season.
Beyond the stability factor, the Steelers' job is a great job because the team doesn't need overhauled. Yes, it badly underachieved this season. But there's a palpable feeling in the organization that the team will take another run at a division championship and maybe even the Super Bowl next season if Roethlisberger plays better and doesn't throw 23 interceptions.
"This is a good football team," Cowher said at his going away party Friday. "Someone is going to have an opportunity to coach a bunch of good football players."
No one can say for sure that Whisenhunt -- or Grimm or someone from outside, for that matter -- will be as successful as Cowher and Noll. No new coach is going to come with guarantees.
But I like Whisenhunt's chances.
Of greater significance, Big Ben probably does, too.
First Published January 7, 2007 12:00 am