TEMPE, Ariz. -- Experience beat out potential in the fight for starting quarterback job for the Arizona Cardinals.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Saturday that Kurt Warner would be the starter over Matt Leinart when Arizona opens its season Sept. 7 at San Francisco.
"It was a fair evaluation of that position but it was also tough because both guys played well," Whisenhunt said. "Both guys did a good job."
The coach said he still considered Leinart, the No. 10 pick overall in the draft three years ago and a 16-game NFL starter in two seasons, the Cardinals' quarterback of the future. But Warner is coming off a strong season and impressed the coaching staff with his consistency and willingness to adjust his game to suit Whisenhunt's style.
Warner said he had mixed feelings when he was told of the decision.
"I was obviously excited for me and the opportunity but I'm also disappointed for Matt and know the position that he's in," Warner said, "Kind of bittersweet but definitely excited from my standpoint."
Leinart was the opening day starter in Whisenhunt's first season with Arizona a year ago, but the quarterback went down for the season with a broken collarbone on a vicious hit from St. Louis Rams linebacker Will Witherspoon in Week 5.
Warner came on to have one of his best seasons since his heady days with St. Louis, when he was a two-time MVP (1999 and 2001) and a Super Bowl MVP (2000).
He threw for 3,417 yards and 27 touchdowns for the Cardinals -- compared with 17 interceptions -- despite only 11 starts. Warner had multiple touchdown passes in each of his last eight games, the longest such streak of his career.
Still, the day after last season ended, Whisenhunt said Leinart was the No. 1 quarterback. That changed sometime this preseason. The most obvious turning point came Aug. 23 in Oakland, when Leinart was awful, throwing three interceptions in less than two quarters.
Whisenhunt insists that wasn't the major factor in the decision, and Leinart came back with a strong showing in Friday night's preseason finale against Denver.
"It really wasn't anything specific," Whisenhunt said. "There were a lot of things that we were looking at. It was a whole bunch of information."
Whisenhunt said Leinart was understandably upset by the decision.
"Great competitors get upset emotionally," the coach said. "Part of being a good player is reining those emotions in and being able to control them. That was one of the things that we got to see last night. He was able to do that after last week."
It wasn't enough to save his job, though.
Instead, Warner was put at the controls of a team that, after going 8-8 last season, believes it can contend in the NFC West. Warner acknowledged it is unusual in today's NFL for a veteran to unseat such a high draft pick at quarterback.
"The bottom line is you just want to be on the football field and you want to play," Warner said. "I still feel like I can do that at a high level."
He said he was happy to "have another chance to compete and hopefully take us to someplace we haven't been in some time and have another run at a championship."
Whisenhunt also announced two other decisions in close competition. Travis LaBoy will start over Bertrand Berry at defensive end/linebacker, and Deuce Lutui got the nod at right guard over Elton Brown.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press