The most significant development in the Steelers’ head coaching search to date occurred Sunday, when the Arizona Cardinals hired Ken Whisenhunt.
Whisenhunt, the Steelers’ offensive coordinator since 2004, will be officially introduced as the Cardinals’ head coach Tuesday.
Whisenhunt was considered one of leading candidates for the Steelers’ job after Bill Cowher resigned Jan. 5.
He interviewed with the Steelers last week but returned to Arizona on Friday for a second interview, which continued into Saturday.
His second round of meetings with the Cardinals and subsequent hiring signaled that the Steelers were no longer seriously considering him. His departure could also mean offensive line/assistant head coach Russ Grimm has become the favorite, although another candidate has entered the picture.
The Steelers have been granted permission by the Texans to interview Houston assistant head coach Mike Sherman, and they could talk with the former Packers head coach early this week.
Grimm, who also interviewed with the Cardinals, met with the Steelers last week.
The Steelers have also interviewed Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin and Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey.
Gailey, a Steelers assistant from 1994 to ’97, met with team chairman Dan Rooney, president Art Rooney II and director of football operations Kevin Colbert for about three hours Saturday at the Steelers’ South Side facility.
If the Steelers want to talk to Rivera again – they met with him in Chicago on Jan. 7 – they will have to wait at least another week. They are not permitted to interview or hire him until the Bears’ season is over; Chicago advanced to the NFC Championship Game with a 27-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks yesterday.
Inside linebacker Larry Foote has said he preferred the Steelers hire either Grimm or Whisenhunt.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger indicated on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” that he’d like to see the Steelers hire an offensive-minded coach.
“I wouldn’t mind, being a quarterback, seeing an offensive guy come in and throw the ball a little bit,” said Roethlisberger, who was a guest analyst on the show. “As a player, you want to have a player-friendly coach, and that’s what Coach Cowher was. We just want a winner to come in, a guy that’s going to command all of our respect.”
Whisenhunt will try to do just that with the Cardinals, who have a history of futility but are blessed with young, talented skill players, including former Pitt wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and former Heisman-winning quarterback Matt Leinart.
Whisenhunt signed a four-year contract with the Cardinals with a club option for a fifth year.
He was one of eight people to interview with the Cardinals. Whisenhunt and Sherman were the only ones to interview with the team a second time.
“It became apparent to us, particularly when we got into the second phase of the interview process, that Ken began to separate himself from the other candidates,” Arizona vice president for football operations Rod Graves said yesterday during a conference call with reporters. “It became obvious to us that his leadership ability, the plan he had for our football team and the organization he demonstrated was clearly the right one for this team.”
Whisenhunt also interviewed with the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins. The Atlanta native had been considered a favorite for the Falcons’ job, but Atlanta hired Louisville coach Bobby Petrino.
The Dolphins have interviewed a number of candidates, including Gailey, but have yet to make a hire.