Ken Whisenhunt came close to becoming Browns coach last year. He’s in the mix again this time, adding a strong candidate to Cleveland’s complex search.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Browns will interview Whisenhunt, in his first year as San Diego’s offensive coordinator after six years as coach of the Cardinals, on Saturday. The Chargers beat the Bengals 27-10 on Sunday in the wild-card round and will visit the Broncos this Sunday.
No coach can be hired until his team is done with the postseason.
Whisenhunt was a surprise addition to the list of candidates, but not because he doesn’t deserve to be on it. Browns CEO Joe Banner said Dec. 30 he didn’t think anyone from last year’s coaching search would be a candidate this time.
Whisenhunt was interviewed twice by Banner and owner Jimmy Haslam before Rob Chudzinski was hired last January. He was fired after going 4-12 in his only season.
CBS’ Jason La Canfora reported last year, citing sources, that Banner and Whisenhunt couldn’t agree on how much say the front office would have in the make up of the coaching staff. Chudzinski eventually hired offensive coordinator Norv Turner and defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who were recommended by the front office.
In the news conference the day after Chudzinski was fired, Banner said the next coach would choose his staff.
“If you hire a new head coach, you have to empower him to make those decisions,” Banner said. “And he will evaluate what he thinks the best staff he could put together to achieve what he wants to achieve and have a staff that works together well, and those decisions will be completely in the hands of whoever we hire.”
Whisenhunt, 51, has multiple teams interested. According to Schefter, he had interviews scheduled with the Lions on Thursday and Titans today. The Vikings are the only other team still looking for a coach.
Whisenhunt went 45-51 in six years with the Cardinals through 2012. He interviewed with the Browns and other teams last year for head coaching positions but wound up as coordinator under rookie coach Mike McCoy.
The Chargers won four straight games to squeak into the playoffs. During the regular season, they ranked fifth in yardage (393.3), 13th in rushing (122.8), fourth in passing (270.5) and 12th in scoring (24.8 points).
Whisenhunt led Arizona to the franchise’s first Super Bowl following the 2008 season and lost 27-23 to the Steelers in the final minute in a classic game. He then won a second straight NFC West title in 2009. He was unable to sustain the success, going 5-11, 8-8, 5-11 before getting fired despite winning a franchise-record 49 games and going 4-2 in the postseason.
Whisenhunt was asked Thursday how he’s able to focus on preparing for the game against the Broncos while interviewing for jobs three straight days.
“It’s not hard, this is a playoff game,” he said. “That’s where the focus has been. Anything else outside of that is really secondary.”
McCoy complimented Whisenhunt.
“He’s done an outstanding job with the football team and the offense of adjusting to the scheme,” he said. “The players respect what he does. He’s not only a football coach, but he’s a great person.”
Whisenhunt has arguably the strongest resume on Cleveland’s list of candidates. He played tight end and H-back for nine seasons with the Falcons, Redskins and Jets, before spending 10 seasons as an assistant coach with the Ravens, Jets, Steelers and Browns (1999, special teams). He was with the Steelers twice, the second time as coordinator from 2004-06, winning a Super Bowl.
He has a degree in civil engineering from Georgia Tech.
Whisenhunt may be inclined to keep Horton, which would go over well with the players. Horton was coordinator for Whisenhunt’s last two years in Arizona.
The Browns have interviewed Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo. They requested permission to interview Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase — he declined until after Denver’s postseason — and have interest in Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Vanderbilt’s James Franklin.
McDaniels removed himself from consideration Wednesday after being told by the Browns he wasn’t the favorite to get the job, according to a league source.
The Browns aren’t publicly commenting on the search.