By Mike Bires
Beaver County Times
October 20, 2011
PITTSBURGH -- There's a perception that the relationship between Ben Roethlisberger and Ken Whisenhunt is a bit on the cool side.
Apparently, Roethlisberger was never enamored with the way he was handled early in his career when Whisenhunt, now head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, was the Steelers' offensive coordinator.
It was Roethlisberger himself who hinted that there may be some tension between the two when asked about Whisenhunt before Wednesday's practice.
Although Roethlisberger wasn't asked specifically if he has any problems with Whisenhunt, part of his answer was "there are no grudges."
There is a small faction which believes if Roethlisberger would have given Whisenhunt a strong endorsement after Bill Cowher resigned that Whisenhunt may have been named coach before Mike Tomlin got the job.
"Whiz was good," Roethlisberger said. "It took me awhile to realize ... I think he was very good because I was a young quarterback. He really held those reins real tight. He felt that was the way to approach a young quarterback. There are no grudges. That's the way he wanted to do it.
"I mean, as a quarterback you want to go, and you want to do no-huddle stuff and have the opportunity to change plays and do things. But either he didn't feel I was ready for it or that his system was the way to go. That's his prerogative."
Roethlisberger, the 11th overall pick in the 2004 draft, became a starter in Week 3 of his rookie season after Tommy Maddox suffered an elbow injury. Roethlisberger went on to win all 13 of his regular-season starts. He didn't experience a loss until the Steelers lost in the AFC Championship Game to New England.
A year later, Roethlisberger became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
In both those seasons, the Steelers had a great defense and ran a run-oriented offense. Roethlisberger threw 295 passes as a rookie and 268 in the 12 games he played in '05.
Since Bruce Arians succeeded Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator in 2007, Roethlisberger has thrown less than 400 passes only once. That was last year when he threw 389 passes after missing the first four games of the season while on suspension.
"Obviously, (Ben) was thrust in the starting role after Tommy got hurt in that second game, and a lot of that was making sure he was ready," Whisenhunt said of the way Roethlisberger was handled as a rookie.
"You always defer to your head coach -- a lot of our staff felt that was the approach we should take with him -- try to do things he was comfortable with and giving him those things. We felt we had a lot of good football players around him and we were able to run the football, and that always helps. But any time you've got a young quarterback and you're trying to bring him along, the biggest thing is assessing what he does well and trying to make sure he's put in the right situation. A lot of that was Coach Cowher. That's what he believed in."
Since Whisenhunt went to Arizona, the Steelers and Cardinals have played twice. The first time was in 2007 when the Cardinals won at home, 21-14. In that game, Roethlisberger didn't play particularly well. He threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw two interceptions and was sacked four times while compiling a 72.9 passer rating.
The next season, the Steelers beat the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. In that game, Roethlisberger posted a 93.2 passer rating. He threw an interception and was sacked once. But he threw for 258 yards and the game-winning touchdown, a 6-yard throw to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left to play.
"It was fun," Roethlisberger said when asked if that Super Bowl win was the greatest moment of his career. "It ranks up there pretty high."
When asked if he now appreciates how he was handled by Whisenhunt from 2004-2006, Roethlisberger gave the politically correct answer.
"Yeah, probably," he said. "Thankful? Who knows? Maybe I would have liked to have done some stuff. But I appreciate the way he coached me. He was a good coach."