The Arizona Cardinals announced on Sunday that Whisenhunt, a former Richmond Academy football standout, would succeed Dennis Green. Whisenhunt is believed to be the first person with Augusta roots to become an NFL head coach.
Whisenhunt, 44, signed a four-year contract with a team option for a fifth, the Cardinals announced. Financial terms were not released, but he will be introduced on Tuesday at a news conference.
Considered one of the NFL's top assistant coaches, Whisenhunt served as offensive coordinator for three seasons in Pittsburgh and helped the Steelers win Super Bowl XL a year ago. He was in the running for four of the five vacant NFL head coaching positions.
He interviewed with Atlanta, the team that drafted him as a tight end out of Georgia Tech in 1985, but was passed over in favor of University of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. He also interviewed with Pittsburgh last week and was considered one of the favorites for that job along with fellow assistant Russ Grimm. He also spoke with the Miami Dolphins about their vacancy.
Whisenhunt was one of eight candidates for the Arizona job, but only he and former Green Bay coach Mike Sherman got second interviews with the Cardinals.
"As the interview process went on, Ken continued to impress us and distinguish himself," Arizona's Rod Graves, vice president of football operations, said in a news release on the team's Web site. "It's clear to us that he has the all the attributes we were seeking in terms of coaching ability, enthusiasm, organizational and leadership skills and the overall ability to lead this team to success immediately and for years to come."
Whisenhunt is leaving one of the NFL's models of consistency for a franchise that has had little success through the years. Arizona finished the 2006 season 5-11, and Whisenhunt will be the eighth Cardinals coach since the team relocated from St. Louis to Arizona in 1988.
Whisenhunt was born in Atlanta but grew up in Augusta, where he played football at Richmond Academy under longtime coach Sammie Lamb. He was a walk-on at Georgia Tech, where he played for Bill Curry, and eventually became an All-ACC tight end. Along the way, he helped the Yellow Jackets to an improbable tie against top-ranked Notre Dame in 1980 when he was forced to fill in at quarterback after Georgia Tech lost its starter and backup to injuries in the game.
In the NFL, Whisenhunt enjoyed a nine-year career with Atlanta, Washington and the New York Jets.
His coaching career began in the college ranks with a two-year stint at Vanderbilt. From there he jumped to the NFL and served as an assistant coach for the Jets, Cleveland and Baltimore before landing in Pittsburgh in 2001.
The new coach inherits plenty of young talent, including quarterback Matt Leinart, a pair of the top receivers in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald and a premier running back in Edgerrin James. However, he also joins a franchise with a legacy of losing that is unprecedented in this era of NFL parity.
The Cardinals have had one winning season - and one playoff appearance - since 1984. They have one playoff victory since winning the NFL championship in 1947.
Owner Bill Bidwill and son Michael, the Cardinals' vice president and general counsel, joined Graves in conducting the interviews. The Cardinals insist they are intent on putting a winning team in their new stadium, pointing to the free agent acquisition of James and contract extensions to Boldin, Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson and several other of their best young players.
At Pittsburgh, Whisenhunt helped develop Ben Roethlisberger into an immediate success. He has another talented pupil now in Leinart.
"Young quarterbacks that have a bright future like he does are hard to find," Whisenhunt said after his initial interview with the Cardinals on Jan. 5. "They don't grow on trees. That's an exciting part of this organization."
Family: Wife, Alice; children, Kenny Jr., 15; Mary Ashley, 13
High School: Richmond Academy
College: Georgia Tech
NFL Playing Career: Nine seasons (Falcons, Redskins, Jets)
NFL Coaching Career: 10 seasons (Ravens, Jets, Browns, Steelers and Cardinals)
KEN WHISENHUNT: FROM AUGUSTA TO ATLANTA TO ARIZONA
1980: Graduated from Richmond Academy, where he played quarterback
1980-84: Played tight end/H-back for Georgia Tech
1980: As a walk-on freshman, led Tech to unlikely 3-3 tie against No. 1 Notre Dame
1984: Named consensus All-ACC and honorable mention All-America selection as a senior with 19.1 yards per catch
1985: Drafted in the 12th round by the Atlanta Falcons
1985-92: Played tight end/H-back for nine seasons in the NFL, including stints with the Falcons, Redskins and Jets
1990: Graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in civil engineering
1995-96: Coached special teams, tight ends and H-backs at Vanderbilt University
1997-98: Coached tight ends for the Baltimore Ravens
1999: Coached special teams for the Cleveland Browns
2000: Coached tight ends coach for the Jets
2001: Hired as tight ends coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers
2004: Named offensive coordinator for the Steelers
2006: Won Super Bowl with the Steelers
2007: Hired as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals
82 receptions for 1,264 yards
for 596 yards
Sources: Pittsburgh Steelers, Pro-football-reference.com, staff reports