Originally created 02/05/06

Whisenhunt has team on offensive



He's the hottest thing since blogs and iPods. And he's one of the main reasons Pittsburgh is playing in Super Bowl XL today.

Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, an Augusta native, has been the mastermind behind the Steelers' three playoff wins on the road, as his game plans have flustered opposing defenses.

His stock has risen tenfold the past month, yet he doesn't know it.

"You're kind of isolated in this environment," said Whisenhunt, who's making his first Super Bowl appearance as a coach. "You don't have time to pay any attention to it."

The former Richmond Academy and Georgia Tech standout continues to be in the right place at the right time. He was in the perfect situation when he became the Pittsburgh offensive coordinator two years ago. And it appears his timing might be impeccable again.

Multiple media outlets are reporting Whisenhunt is the front-runner to become the next Oakland head coach. Raiders owner Al Davis is expected to interview him after the Super Bowl.

The 43-year-old Whisenhunt said he believes that, after nine years coaching in the NFL and working with Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher the past five seasons, he's ready to become a head coach.

"I don't know," he said. "I'd like to think that I am. I certainly have learned from one of the best coaches in the NFL."

A No. 6 seed entering the playoffs, the Steelers have dominated, averaging more than 28 points per game during the postseason. Pittsburgh went on the road to knock off Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver.

"We certainly didn't consider ourselves a No. 6 seed," he said. "We just got hot at the right time."

Whisenhunt's career took a steady ascent. After playing nine seasons in the NFL with Atlanta, Washington and the New York Jets, he began coaching at Vanderbilt in 1995, working with special teams, tight ends and H-backs. Two years later, he got his first NFL job as tight ends coach for Baltimore.

After stints with the New York Jets and Cleveland, he joined the Steelers in 2001. After three years as tight ends coach, he was promoted to offensive coordinator in January 2004 when Mike Mularkey left to be head coach of the Buffalo Bills.

In his first season in the new position, he helped Pittsburgh regain its dominant running attack, which ranked second in the NFL compared to 31st the previous season. The Steelers finished this season fifth in rushing.

Ironically, it was a running play that almost derailed Pittsburgh's season. With the Steelers trying to put the Colts away with a minute remaining, Jerome Bettis fumbled at the goal line.

Indy's Nick Harper snatched the ball and started sprinting downfield toward a game-winning touchdown.

Whisenhunt watched in horror. He realized the slow goal line offense was on the field. Only quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stood between Harper and a possible touchdown; he made the game-saving tackle.

"There's a lot of things Ben does that he doesn't have to be taught," Whisenhunt said.

The next week, Pittsburgh pounded Denver in the AFC Championship game to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1996.

"You work so hard. You put in so many hours," he said. "We've been with these guys for a half year now. It's really an unbelievable high."

"I can't imagine what it's like to win the Super Bowl itself."

The Steelers now face a Seattle defense that ranked eighth in scoring and 17th in total yards during the regular season.

"They're a good team," Whisenhunt said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to do some things.

"Over the past three weeks, I'll take our offense against anybody."

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.

Whisenhunt File:

Age: 43

Wife: Alice

Children: Kenny, Jr., 14; Mary Ashley, 12

High School: Richmond Academy

College: Georgia Tech

Current position: Pittsburgh offensive coordinator

NFL playing career: Nine seasons (Atlanta, Washington, New York Jets)

NFL coaching career: Nine seasons (Baltimore, New York Jets, Cleveland, Pittsburgh)

Rumor central: ESPN and Sports Illustrated are reporting Whisenhunt is the top candidate for the vacant Oakland head coaching position.