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Whipple Capitalized on Opportunity to Call Plays for Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals assistant receivers coach took over play-calling duties and succeeded on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

Spencer Whipple has ambitions to be an offensive coordinator one day.

The Arizona Cardinals assistant receivers coach got a taste of it during a college game in 2018 when he called offensive plays for the University of Massachusetts. 

Whipple was at the Cardinals facility Friday when he heard the news that head coach and play-caller Kliff Kingsbury tested positive for COVID-19. 

Kingsbury called on the 32-year-old to run the offense in his absence.

"When I found out it was happening, pretty much every coach reached out and said 'Hey, it's all of us, we're here, let me know if you need anything at all, don't hesitate to reach out, we're all doing this together,'" Whipple said Tuesday. 

Whipple understood he had a tremendous opportunity, and he took advantage. 

The Cardinals offense looked like its usual self. The head coach-less team won 37-14. 

Whipple was not asked to overextend. The game plan and call sheets were already in place. Whipple's job was to use it as a guide and call plays with plenty of help around him. 

"It was a really good plan," Whipple said. "It was just a matter of getting those calls that coach and the staff had come up with to Kyler (Murray) and then the players executing them which they did. I think as the game went along, I got more comfortable with the whole process."

Butterflies were understandably in Whipple's stomach when he walked onto the field at FirstEnergy Stadium during warmups. But there was too much to focus on and not enough time to be really nervous. 

The players felt his calm. 

"He's quiet," left guard Justin Pugh said. "He does red-zone meetings and . . . 'unflappable' is a term that we use.' He's all business, and it showed. He was ready to go when his number was called and that's what the NFL is all about. 

"When your opportunity presents itself, you have to be able to capitalize."

What reassured Whipple was just how much of an organized team effort there was Sunday. 

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He had meetings with the quarterbacks room prior, and Murray, Colt McCoy and Chris Streveler all helped map out what Murray wants to do and how he sees the game. 

On Friday evening, Kingsbury jumped on Zoom for a meeting with the coaches.

"It was really focused on how guys can call a game the same way Kliff called a game," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "Coach had his call sheet set up that way it was really seamless on game day. No one was obviously panicked about it . . . Whipple was excited about being the communicator to the quarterback."

Joseph credited Kingsbury with coaching the offense thoroughly. Everyone knew the objectives on the field.

Murray continued to show maturity, checking several plays at the line of scrimmage when he saw something. 

There were a couple of timeouts called early in the first half on offense, but those were the only noticeable hiccups throughout the game. 

Whipple was also helped by words of encouragement from Kingsbury, Joseph and his father, University of Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. 

Kingsbury calmly laid out the game plan and entrusted Whipple to run it smoothly. "Let it rip," is what the head coach texted him. 

Joseph told Whipple that the first game he had called defensively was against the record-breaking Denver Broncos led by Peyton Manning which eased his stress a bit, too. 

Whipple said his father did not say too much, but he echoed a sentiment Kingsbury had. 

"He said, 'You'll be great, just trust it,'" Whipple said. "'Don't overthink it and just let it roll' . . . The more I thought about the situation and things that were unfolding, the more hesitant you become. If you just let it flow and let it happen, that's when you get into a rhythm."

Despite the bizarre circumstances, Joseph mentioned that the team did not blink. Everyone was focused at Saturday walk-throughs and that translated to a complete team victory on Sunday.

Murray gave credit to Whipple's "aggressive" play-calling and said the offense had full trust in him even in a hostile road environment. 

Kingsbury's status for this week is fluid. He will attend meetings via Zoom and needs two negative tests to return to the building.

But the Cardinals are prepared to adapt.