Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt will face a familiar opponent on Sunday in the National Football League's Super Bowl. The former assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers is hoping to use tactical advantages to win the championship.
Ken Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers when the team won Super Bowl XL (40) three years ago. At the time, he had hoped to follow Bill Cowher as head coach of the Steelers. His opportunity to lead came instead with the Arizona Cardinals, a perennial NFL loser.
In Phoenix, Whisenhunt used many ideas that had made the Steelers successful.
"I have used a lot of the things that we did in Pittsburgh to help model what we are doing in Arizona," he said. "I think that obviously when you have been with an organization that has been as successful as Pittsburgh has [been], you learn a lot - not only from just the organization itself or from Bill Cowher, but [also] from [team owner] Mr. [Art] Rooney. Everything we have done there, a lot of those things we have tried to emulate."
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was in just his second season when his team reached Super Bowl XL (40). While the two often seemed at odds, Roethlisberger says Whisenhunt was an important teacher for him.
"You know what, coach Whis was awesome for me. Whether it was on the golf course or on the football field or in the meeting rooms, [he was] a very good mentor for me. [He] really helped me become the player that I am today. And I am really proud and happy that he is here and that I get to play against him. I just hope I can beat him," he said.
Whisenhunt is hoping he can lead the Cardinals past a formidable opponent. But he says his familiarity with Pittsburgh's offense may not be as much of an asset as people would think.
"I do not think really it makes a difference, to be honest with you. I can not say that something you saw one of their players do two years ago would still be the same thing in this game," he said. "I mean, everybody changes over the course of time. And they have had success and have done a very good job. And they are playing good football."
Pittsburgh is led by second year coach Mike Tomlin, who took the Steelers to a 12-4 regular season record. The Cardinals went 9-7. Since the regular season expanded to 16 games in 1978, Arizona becomes only the third team in a non-strike shortened season to reach the Super Bowl with fewer than 10 wins.
Tomlin making first trip to Super Bowl
The Pittsburgh Steelers have more Super Bowl experience than most other National Football League teams. But second year coach Mike Tomlin is making his first trip to the big game And is the youngest head coach to lead a team into the championship game.
He has been coaching in the NFL for 10 years, mostly as a defensive assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings. At each stop, he has helped to build some of the best defenses in the game.
Two years ago, Pittsburgh tapped him as the team's 16th head coach. And at age 36, he has taken the franchise to a seventh Super Bowl appearance. Tomlin says the support from Pittsburgh's owners has been a big reason for his success.
"I have been blessed. But I work for some great people. People that took a stake in my growth and development. And really all of it, I pull from all of it on a day to day basis, lessons learned from leadership," he said.
Tomlin posted 10 wins and six losses in his first season, followed by a 12-4 run in 2008. Defensive star Troy Polamalu, who has been selected for his fifth straight Pro Bowl, says Tomlin's youth creates a special bond between the coach and players.
"It is really unique in the sense that he is younger. And he is, I guess, more hip, more GQ [a reference to Gentleman's Quarterly magazine] than you would see any other coach. And in that he is more compassionate and more sympathetic to what we experience as players. One being the youth and two being a similar cultural background to the players as well."
Tomlin's expertise has produced the top rated defense in the league this season. He says his relationship with the players creates the right atmosphere for them to succeed.
"Really, it is about people. It is about taking care of the troops. It is about putting care of them first," he said. "I have learned that. If you are going to lead, you have to lead with a service heart. I try to do that. I try to take care of my men and give them what they need to be great."
Tomlin is the first coach in Steelers history to guide the team to the Super Bowl in his second season. He is now aiming to deliver a sixth championship, which would be the most ever by one team in the NFL.