Charlie Batch, whose 15-year career as an NFL quarterback started with the Lions in 1998 as a second-round draft pick, can give a personal scouting report on Ken Whisenhunt from their time together in Pittsburgh when Whisenhunt was a Steelers assistant coach and offensive coordinator.
Whisenhunt is a leading candidate to be the Lions’ next head coach. If he’s hired, Batch expects his personality to be evident immediately and for Whisenhunt to put his stamp on the Lions’ offense.
That would include working directly with quarterback Matthew Stafford, much like Whisenhunt did as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator and Ben Roethlisberger was a young quarterback.
"He’s a fiery guy," Batch said of Whisenhunt in a telephone interview from his home in suburban Pittsburgh. "He knows what he wants out of his players. He’s able to relate that. He’s a great communicator."
Whisenhunt spent six seasons with the Steelers (2001-06) before leaving to become head coach of the Arizona Cardinals for six years. He was fired after the 2012 season. He led the Cardinals to two playoff appearances and a Super Bowl loss, and is currently offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers.
Batch also has a high regard for Frank Reich, the Chargers’ quarterbacks coach, who possibly could be a member of Whisenhunt’s staff if he were to move on to become a head coach. In most cases, contract issues have to be resolved for assistants to move to other teams for positions less than head coach.
Batch was with the Lions from 1998-2001. He was released after the 2001 season after falling out of favor with head coach Marty Mornhinweg, whose two seasons with the Lions produced a 5-27 won-lost record.
Batch became a starter in the third game of his rookie season with the Lions and said he benefitted from a detailed supplemental game plan that Reich produced every week for the quarterbacks.
Whisenhunt works intensely with quarterbacks. In Detroit, he’d find a balance between how he worked with Roethlisberger as a young quarterback and how he rebuilt Kurt Warner’s career as a veteran in Arizona.
The Steelers won the Super Bowl in the 2005 season, Roethlisberger’s second pro season. The 2008 season was Whisenhunt’s second with the Cardinals. They lost to the Steelers in the Super Bowl on a last-minute TD pass.
"Obviously, he had Ben as a young guy, as a rookie, and elevated him to a point where we were able to win a championship in his tenure," Batch said.
"He knows how to develop quarterbacks. On the flip side, he went to Arizona and had a veteran guy (Warner). I put Matt in the veteran category. He (Whisenhunt) was able to tailor the game plan to fit around Kurt Warner, which he should be able to do in Detroit."
In the 11 seasons Batch was with the Steelers, Stafford’s only game against the Steelers in the regular season was as a rookie in 2009. Much of what Batch has seen of Stafford is from highlights, and from watching video against common opponents in game-planning for games.
Batch likes what he has seen of Stafford and would expect Whisenhunt to go to work immediately with a quarterback whose age (he turns 26 next month) and five seasons of starting experience combine to make him a young veteran.
"He wouldn’t hesitate at all," Batch said. "Obviously, he’s not as young as Ben was, but he’d be able to put him in a position to succeed.
"One thing Ken would do, which has not been the case in Detroit, is run the football. And with Ken, they definitely won’t be in the shotgun 90 percent of the time, like Detroit is now.
"He (Stafford) hasn’t accomplished what Kurt has been able to accomplish, but from a mental standpoint he’s able to pick up the game. You’re not able to throw for 5,000 yards and not be able to pick up the game.
"I haven’t been able to see Matt and study him, but from what I see, he obviously has a strong arm. He has the talent to make every throw he possibly can."
If Reich were part of Whisenhunt’s staff, it would benefit Stafford, Batch said. Batch had a 5-7 won-lost record in 1998 on a Lions team that went 5-11.
"He’s unbelievably gifted," Batch said. "I say gifted because he knows the X’s and O’s better than anybody. Come Wednesday morning, by the time we got to the 8 a.m. quarterback meeting, he already had a game plan ready.
"Matt would benefit from having him around."