There’s no sense belaboring this. Michael Bidwill should fire coach Ken Whisenhunt, and he should do it now.
It will be an empty gesture. Nobody’s going to win with the offense the Cardinals trot on the field each week. Nobody’s going to win with John Skelton and Ryan Lindley at quarterback. Nobody’s going to win with eight turnovers.
Firing Whisenhunt will be a reactionary gesture, too. But you have to send a message to your fans — you know, the ones who have sold out every game since University of Phoenix Stadium opened? You have to tell your team and your city that this is unacceptable.
Nobody expected the Cardinals to win Sunday in Seattle. In many ways, this was the perfect storm. The Seahawks were experiencing a turbo boost in confidence after finally breaking through on the road with a big win last week in Chicago. This club is surging behind a remarkable rookie quarterback and will give the NFC West two legitimate threats when the playoffs begin in January.
On the flip side, the Cards were riding an eight-game losing streak, the benching of defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (the erstwhile team captain who exhibited no such leadership last week) and an utter collapse in confidence.
But losing is one thing. Getting annihilated in Biblical fashion, 58-0, is quite another.
“Let me start by saying I apologize to our fans and everybody associated with our organization,” Whisenhunt told reporters after the game. “That was embarrassing today.”
There is no hope associated with this franchise now. And that is a dangerous thing for a business that relies on its customer base. We have no idea whether the Cards’ final two home games will be official sellouts, but if we’re told that, we won’t believe it. We’ll see empty seats everywhere and wonder how anyone would dare maintain that ruse.
And if Whisenhunt is still on the sidelines when the Lions come to town, the fans who do show up could get ugly. If you took a poll right now asking whether Whisenhunt should remain, the results would be so one-sided you’d wonder how this state could be so politically divided otherwise.
“We all know this business,” Whisenhunt said. “I’ve been in it a long time as a player and a coach. I’m not worried about that.”
It’s important to note all the mitigating circumstances that have undermined Whisenhunt this season. He lost starting left tackle Levi Brown to a season-ending triceps tear in the preseason. He lost running back Ryan Williams for most of the season and Beanie Wells for about half of it. He lost starting center Lyle Sendlein two weeks ago, starting linebacker O’Brien Schofield shortly before that and was without starting defensive end Calais Campbell for a stretch.
Most importantly, he lost quarterback Kevin Kolb — again — to a rib injury that all but shelved any hope this mediocre offense had of holding its own.
It’s no secret this is a quarterback-driven league. If you have one, you can mask so many deficiencies like the Packers do every week with Aaron Rodgers — like Kurt Warner did while he was here. The Cardinals don’t have one, and it’s not as easy as some might believe to find one, either.
When a reporter asked who would start at QB next week against Detroit, Whisenhunt quipped: “Do you play?”
It was a telling admission of his frustration with the position. But whether or not you blame Whisenhunt for that mess is irrelevant now. The Cardinals have lost nine straight games for the first time since 1944. The Seahawks’ 38 first-half points were the most ever by an opponent. The Seahawks’ 58 points overall were also the most by an opponent; the Jets scored 56 in 2008 and the Eagles did the same in 1953. Oh, and the Cardinals have posted losing streaks of six games or more in each of the last three seasons.
It’s a stunning turn of events considering the Cards’ 4-0 start this season gave them 11 wins in their previous 13 outings. But that’s how quickly things can go south in this business. And it can’t be tolerated.
We have a habit in the Valley of hanging on to past accomplishments far too long. Suns fans still talk about the Charles Barkley years. Arizona State fans still talk about Jake Plummer’s Rose Bowl team. And Cardinals fans still talk about the Warner years.
Whisenhunt had a wondrous start to his head coaching career with a franchise that had accomplished nothing before he arrived. He took the Cards to within seconds of a Super Bowl title. But pro sports are about the here and now. You can’t go three straight seasons without a playoff berth and assume you can rest on your fading laurels. You can’t go into a division opponent’s building, not even compete, then assume you are free from consequences after a record-breaking loss.
The specter of losing is weighing heavily on everyone.
“I’ve never died before,” running back Beanie Wells told azcardinals.com, “but it’s like a painful death.”
Whisenhunt’s 4-year-old past is irrelevant. He deserves another chance somewhere else, and he will likely get it. He has many of the qualities you look for in a coach.
But it’s time for a change here. It’s time to give defensive coordinator Ray Horton a crack at a head coaching gig before someone else does, and there’s no sense waiting until the end of this tragic season to do it. It’s time to admit that this relationship just isn’t working any more. A 58-0 loss is all the proof you need.