Raiders might wait to talk to Whisenhunt

Updated: January 24, 2006, 11:08 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

The last NFL team without a head coach may wait until after the last meaningful game of the season is completed before filling its vacancy.

Indications are that the Oakland Raiders, who dismissed head coach Norv Turner on Jan. 3 after two seasons and a 9-23 mark, are eyeing Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt as a potential candidate for the job. The only hitch: Under league rules, the Raiders can't discuss their opening with Whisenhunt until after the Steelers' season concludes in Super Bowl XL on Feb. 5.

That could mean that a Raiders team which has already gone three weeks without a coach might have to wait at least two more weeks for a new sideline boss. Then again, Oakland owner Al Davis has never fretted in the past about such timetables, and typically has been deliberate in his head coaching hires.

Eight of the 10 teams that had openings since the end of the 2005 season have filled them, with the Texans also announcing they intend to hire the Broncos' Gary Kubiak, and many teams cited the need for locating qualified staffers as a reason for moving quickly. But the Raiders still have some assistants under contract, last week agreed with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan on a three-year extension, and feel that there is still a large pool of solid position aides available because so many staffs were cut loose.

Oakland has interviewed three known candidates -- former Kansas City offensive coordinator Al Saunders, former Tampa Bay defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, and San Diego wide receivers coach James Lofton -- since Turner was dismissed. Marinelli was named head coach of the Detroit Lions and Saunders was hired by Washington as the assistant head coach for offense.

There was speculation a few weeks ago that the Raiders might also interview Fresno State coach Pat Hill, but that did not take place. Hill last week signed a contract extension through the 2010 season. There is still a chance the Raiders will interview more candidates before the Super Bowl, with former Green Bay coach Mike Sherman a possibility.

Davis has historically leaned toward hiring coaches with a largely offensive background and Whisenhunt has certainly enhanced his resume during the Steelers' impressive run to a Super Bowl berth. Asked last week about the possibility of hiring a first-time coach, Davis noted, "young guys take a long time [to develop in the NFL]." But Whisenhunt has been so impressive in his design and play-calling during Pittsburgh's three road victories in the playoffs that he might be difficult for Davis to ignore.

Whisenhunt, 43, has been an NFL assistant for nine seasons, the past five of those with the Steelers, the last two as coordinator. He also served on staffs at Baltimore (1997-98), Cleveland (1999) and the New York Jets (2000). Whisenhunt played nine seasons in the NFL, most of that tenure with the Atlanta Falcons, as a tight end.

The St. Louis Rams, who interviewed Whisenhunt by phone nearly two weeks ago, are the only franchise to have spoken with him during this hiring cycle.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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