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Whisenhunt leads the Cardinals out of desert

TAMPA, Fla. - Ken Whisenhunt believes in paying attention to detail, whether it's in his smooth golf swing or in his meticulous transformation of an awful NFL franchise.

Honing in on those "little things" and staying consistent with everything and everybody were major tools in Whisenhunt's exorcism of bad football in the desert.

Oh, and one more thing.

"He's a tough guy," safety Adrian Wilson said.

That combination fueled his nine-year journeyman career as a tight end with Atlanta, Washington and the New York Jets. It served him well in his rise through the coaching ranks, first with Vanderbilt, then to Baltimore, Cleveland, the Jets and finally as offensive coordinator of Super Bowl champ Pittsburgh three years ago.

His degree in civil engineering from Georgia Tech taught him problem solving, and he's applied that knowledge to football.

"Even though there's not a lot of mathematical equations in football," Whisenhunt said Friday in his last news conference before Sunday's Super Bowl, "there are a lot of problems that you are going to have to solve."

As a player and an assistant coach he took copious notes, jotting down the philosophies and ideas of the likes of Joe Gibbs, Dan Henning, and probably most of all, Bill Cowher.

"I told coach Cowher that I have notebooks with little tabs in there from when he spoke before the championship game, when he spoke before the Super Bowl, when he spoke at mini-camp meeting, all of those things," Whisenhunt said. "I'd go back and look at those things and get ideas of where he was and what he was thinking about."

Now Whisenhunt has performed the amazing feat of leading the Cardinals to a Super Bowl matchup Sunday against the Steelers, the team that passed him over as Cowher's replacement two years ago.

Instead, Whisenhunt moved his wife and two teenage children to the Arizona sunshine, where he had been assured that this was a new, modernized Cardinal organization, playing in a fancy new stadium with an already talented roster.

"I didn't look at it as far as history goes because I didn't think it really had anything to do with what we were trying to get done," he said.

Ignoring the history was a good idea. The Cardinals had been historically awful, with one winning season in 22 years. This was a franchise that had forgotten how to win, if it really ever knew.

He set about bringing a bit of Pittsburgh to the Southwest.

Working for the Steelers, he said, "gave me an idea of what it took to be successful."

"I believe we brought a lot of that with us from the standpoint of how we prepare, how we practice, what we expect of our players," Whisenhunt said.

That consistency did not go unnoticed by Wilson, who has spent all eight of his NFL seasons with Arizona, the longest of any player on the team's roster.

"He doesn't waver in any decision that he makes," Wilson said. "That's all you can ask for as a player. When you have people who are on both sides of the fence, it's hard to read them. It's not hard to read coach Whisenhunt."