Holding All the Cards

Jilted Steelers assistants Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm find happiness in the desert
May 20, 2007

TO HEAR SOME awedCardinals employees tell it, Russ Grimm's backyard would not look out of placeon a slice of choice beachfront property in Cabo San Lucas. His spacious poolincludes a swim-up bar, button-activated waterfalls and gas flames shooting outof rock formations. Grimm moved into the pimped-out pad in suburban Chandlernear the team's training facility shortly after accepting Arizona's offer tobecome assistant head coach and offensive line coach in late January. On morethan one occasion since, he and his boss, new Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt,have stood together beside the abundant outdoor kitchen and clinked mugsholding fresh-from-the-tap beer in a toast to their good fortunes.

"Russ and Ihad a great run in Pittsburgh, but it's not hard to fall in love with thisarea," Whisenhunt says. "When your only decision in the morning iswhich short-sleeved shirt you're going to wear, you know life issweet."

For Grimm andWhisenhunt, it's all about relocation, relocation, relocation. After six yearstogether behind the Steel Curtain, including three AFC title game appearancesand a Super Bowl victory, the friends are bringing some championship sizzle tothe Valley of the Sun. "You can tell they're from a winningorganization," halfback Edgerrin James says. "It's like having two headcoaches. If Wiz wanted to take a couple of days off, there's no doubt that theBig Dog could step in and take over."

The Cardinals hadinterviewed both men among eight candidates to succeed Dennis Green, who wasdismissed on Jan. 1 following his third consecutive losing season. Like mosteveryone else, Arizona executives assumed Grimm or Whisenhunt would be chosento succeed Bill Cowher as coach in Pittsburgh. But it didn't play out that way.Whisenhunt was offered the Cardinals job before the Steelers had finishedinterviewing; and with Grimm then looking like Pittsburgh's guy, the two menwent so far as to divvy up which colleagues from Cowher's staff would go withwhom. On Jan. 21 the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reported that Grimm had beenoffered and had accepted the Steelers' job; the next morning the team announcedthat Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin would be the new coach.Whisenhunt's disappointment for his friend was quickly replaced by elation whenGrimm agreed to join him in Arizona. There were high fives all around theCardinals offices.

The feeling ofexcitement hasn't abated, with one very tangible signal of change: OnWhisenhunt's recommendation, tightfisted Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill spent$200,000 to upgrade the weight room in line with strength and conditioningcoach John Lott's communal, Olympic-style approach. "Great for teamchemistry," James says. "It has that prison-yard feel."

There has beenbuzz on the practice field as well. Whisenhunt, known for his innovativeplay-calling when he was Cowher's offensive coordinator, can't wait to applyhis wizardry to a talented set of skill players that includes second-yearquarterback Matt Leinart and Pro Bowl receivers Anquan Boldin and LarryFitzgerald. Grimm is expected to bring toughness and proficiency to a unit thatwas the team's glaring weakness last season--an underachieving offensive line,which has already been bolstered by the selection of punishing Penn Statetackle Levi Brown with the No. 5 pick in last month's draft.

The brainy,ultraorganized Whisenhunt, 45, and the emotive, gregarious Grimm, 48, functionas a yin and yang for a long-struggling franchise seemingly on the verge of abreakthrough. And Grimm has put that backyard to good use. Last month somelongtime Cardinals employees were stunned when he lured the socially awkwardBidwill to a barbecue. Says college scouting director Steve Keim, "WithRuss getting passed over, you'd think there'd be some animosity, but he's moresupportive than any assistant I've ever seen."

PHOTOMIKE MOORE/WIREIMAGE.COM (GRIMM)DOUBLETHE FUN
The gritty Grimm (left) and brainy Whisenhunt brought Super Bowl credentialsand an upbeat attitude to Arizona.
PHOTORICK SCUTERI/US PRESSWIRE (WHISENHUNT)[See Caption Above.]

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