TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals were faced with a tough situation last week. Not only had they lost two of their top pass rushers in Chandler Jones and Zach Allen, along with defensive lineman Corey Peters to positive COVID tests, their head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who also calls the plays for Kyler Murray's offense, and backup play caller, Quarterbacks Coach Cam Turner, were out as well due to positive tests.
So, the Cardinals turned to a new name to call the plays, Assistant Wide Receivers Coach Spencer Whipple, who looked calm and collected, despite not having ever called plays in a pro game before.
"Coach Kingsbury, what he texted (said) ‘Just let it rip,’" Whipple said. "And (he) said he had confidence and faith in us and in me. I think that overall just played a big part of it. For me, it’s a position that I’d like to aspire to be someday full-time, so I just felt like I was here now, I had a really big opportunity and there wasn’t really much time to be nervous. It was just to go out and communicate, let the players play and the staff do their job."
Whipple added that it didn't hit him until warmups that he was actually was going to be calling plays as the voice in Kyler Murray's helmet.
"I think when that happened then you just think about, ‘Hey I got this whole staff here, the plan is in place, I’ve got all these great players, we’re all in this together, we’re all calling it,’" Whipple said. "And just what a great opportunity, so just take advantage of it. You might have some butterflies but there’s not a lot of time. We’re all here to do our job and try to get a win. And so I think just taking advantage of being in that moment, staying in the moment and not thinking about too much else but just getting the job done and getting the victory."
Before Sunday, Whipple had called plays just one other time, back in 2018 when he was coach at UMass in a game against South Florida. But the team knew he would handle his business.
"The plan was in place and it was a really, really good plan," Whipple said. "It was attacking, it was a great plan, just what we needed. It was just a matter of getting those calls that Coach (Kingsbury) and the staff had come up with to Kyler and then the players executing them, which they did. I think as the game went along I got more comfortable with the whole process and how things were going to work and, definitely like I did the first time around, learned some things, wish I had done some things differently, but that’s part of just the process."
It was all hands on deck to pull off the game plan. Every assistant coach, all the quarterbacks, and even Murray sometimes changing the play at the line.
"There was (sic) times during the game where (Kyler) was able to see some things and check some things and get us in the right situations and that’s a credit to his development and Coach Kingsbury and Coach Turner having him prepared the last few years and getting him to that point where he can go out and play and let his talent show, but also his mind out there on the field," Whipple said. "That was a big help for me and really the whole quarterback room from Kyler to Colt (McCoy) to (Chris Streveler), all those guys, the conversations that we had leading up to Sunday were really big for me to try to get up to speed with what Kyler likes, how they see the game going, how they see it flowing and I think that’s the biggest thing."
Sunday was a surreal moment for the Whipple family. His dad, Mark, who is currently the offensive coordinator at Pitt, used to coach in Cleveland.
"I had never been to the Browns’ stadium before but, Colt, I was talking to him through the game plan and my dad had coached him in Cleveland and now we were going there to play a game," Whipple said. "There’s definitely some things that come back full circle, you know how things work, but I think overall we were all just focused on how we get the win and I was too. I was just doing my part, what I could do to help the team on Sunday."
Mark Whipple is also an Arizona high school football legend. In the mid-1970s, he played at Camelback High School under the great Jesse Parker.
"He talks about Camelback High every now and again, he brings that up and talks about the long summer days he had with Coach Parker," Whipple said. "But his advice to me was just go do it. He didn’t say too much. He said you’ll be great, just trust it, don’t overthink it and just let it roll."
But even after winning by 23 points, it still took awhile for Whipple's emotions to come down.
"I think I kept reaching for the communicator even when we were in victory, just waiting to ease the tension and get in the locker room and just relax a little bit," Whipple said. "It’s been great, I was excited to get back to work with the rest of the staff and the players to get ready for this week against Houston."
The Cardinals play the Houston Texans this Sunday, October 24th at home at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:25 p.m.