Ordinarily, new NFL head coaches are given no more than three years to turn a losing program around. This is especially true in Arizona, as the Bidwill family is notorious for firing their head coaches as if to demonstrate some sort of commitment to winning.
Over the past 40 years, they've fired the head coach on average every 2.8 years. Even the venerable Don Coryell lasted only four.
By comparison, the league's more successful franchises have enjoyed much greater stability at the head coaching position. For examples, see Dallas, Denver, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and others where the average head coaching tenure is 5-7 years.
In Ken Whisenhunt's first season, in which his club finished 8-8, he was largely given a pass for a multitude of serious coaching gaffes—several of which caused losses (Baltimore, Washington, San Francisco) in a season where two extra wins would have meant a trip to the playoffs.
Yet there were some real positives that came out of the 2007 season: The passing attack—led by Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin—was among the best in the NFL.
By the end of the season, it was virtually unstoppable. And the defense showed the ability to shut down opposing offenses and make big plays before it was decimated by injuries and finished the season a shadow of its former self.
Yet Whisenhunt is facing his most critical season in year two rather than in the third.
With Karlos Dansby, Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett, Anquan Boldin, and Kurt Warner all seeking new contracts, it seems doubtful that all will be back in 2009.
These five constitute the top three defensive players, and two of the top three offensive players on the Arizona roster. And his two top offensive assistants, Todd Haley and Russ Grimm, are considered to be hot prospects to move on when the NFL head coaching carousel starts turning again next February.
In short, 2009 will undoubtedly be a rough year for the Cardinals as they attempt to rebuild their roster and fill these gaping holes.
So 2008 is the key year for Whisenhunt. A carefully navigated season followed by a trip to the playoffs will buy him a fourth year of Cardinal employment...but anything less, and he may find himself the latest in a long line of Bidwill family scapegoats.