Matt Leinart's feud with Ken Whisenhunt still has legs more than three years after the QB's release in Arizona.
Matt Leinart was anointed the Cardinals starting quarterback during OTAs in 2010 but lost the job to Derek Anderson during training camp and was released before the season started.
Bruce Yeung / Yeung Photography
By Craig Morgan
It's not quite the Hatfields and the McCoys, but the Ken Whisenhunt-Matt Leinart feud still has legs more than three years after their unexpected split before the 2010 regular season began.
During the one-timers segment of FOX Sports 1's FOX Sports Live on Monday, Leinart was asked what he thought of the Tennessee Titans' decision to hire Chargers offensive coordinator and former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt as their new coach, less than two weeks after the Titans fired Mike Munchak.
"I only have 30 seconds to talk about this?" Leinart joked. "I don't think itâs a great fit and I don't think it's great timing and here's why: You look at his tenure in Arizona, only two years he had success and in those two years Kurt Warner ran that football team."
While Warner was Arizona's quarterback, the Cardinals posted two of the only four winning seasons the team has recorded since moving to the Phoenix-area in 1988.
They went 9-7 in 2008, won the NFC West and made it to the Super Bowl, where they lost to Pittsburgh, 27-23, and they won the division in 2009 with a 10-6 record. Leinart, the team's first-round pick in 2006 (10th overall), was Warner's backup on both of those teams and was actually the starter at points in seasons before those.
"I was a part of it," Leinart said, speaking specifically about the two winning seasons. "Literally, every single Monday, Kurt Warner would come in and implement 20 to 30 new plays -- every single Monday -- which he would say, 'I want these in my game plan.' We became a spread offense; we became Kurt Warner's offense.
"Kurt Warner retires, (the Cardinals) go 5-11 twice and they go 8-8. Then (Whisenhunt goes) to the San Diego Chargers this year (and coach) Mike McCoy, heavy offensive influence (and QB) Phillip Rivers implements (McCoy's) offense."
At that point, Leinart's time ran out, but it was clear he wanted to keep going when he said simply: "The Tennessee Titans do not have a quarterback right now," the implication being that Whisenhunt can't succeed without an elite quarterback like he had in Rivers, Warner and Ben Roethlisberger while Whisenhunt was the OC in Pittsburgh.
Leinart did not take direct shots at Whisenhunt during the segment, but it's no secret the two do not respect or like each other after the way they parted during the 2010 preseason.
Warner had just retired, unexpectedly with one year left on his contract, and Whisenhunt anointed Leinart the starter during 2010 OTAs. But Leinart fell behind retread Derek Anderson during the preseason when he had a poor game against, oddly enough, the Titans. Then, when Leinart responded with a better performance against the Bears in the third preseason game yet didn't earn the starter's role back, Leinart was clearly miffed when two reporters caught him coming off the practice field in Tempe.
"I think this goes beyond the football field," he said. "I've done everything they've asked of me and more -- outplayed the competition in training camp and preseason. Obviously, there's something that's going on; I don't know what it is."
That same day, Whisenhunt said the starting quarterback decision would be based on more than stats. It would be based on intangibles like leadership, how each quarterback handles the huddle, and what kind of trust his teammates have in him.
Then he praised all of those qualities in Anderson.
And when discussing newly appointed No. 2 QB Max Hall, Whisenhunt made certain everyone knew that quarterback evaluations were based on more than completion percentages.
Of all the statistics to choose, Whisenhunt chose the one that most Leinart supporters had trumpeted as the reason for handing him the starting job: His 78.6 percent preseason completion percentage.
The reference was no accident.
Leinart and Whisenhunt never meshed. And to hear Whisenhunt tell it, Leinart never won over his teammates or proved he could be a "leader of men."
The Cardinals were unable to trade Leinart because teams were reluctanct to add a quarterback with a big contract who was probably going to be released anyway. Leinart was due to make $7.38 million in salary that season, not including a $5.5 million roster bonus, so the Cardinals released him. He has bounced around ever since, playing with Houston, Oakland and Buffalo.
He is currently a free agent.
That backdrop doesn't entirely dismiss Leinart's comments. Whisenhunt did struggle once Warner retired, and his mismanagement of the quarterback situation in Arizona, including some of the personnel decisions he made, were widely viewed as a key reason he was fired after the 2012 season.
But most coaches in the NFL will struggle without an elite quarterback, and Leinart clearly still has a bone to pick with his former coach, who denied him what may have been his last chance to be a No. 1 NFL QB.