After a 4-0 start as the early surprise team of the 2012 NFL season, the Arizona Cardinals collapsed to a 1-11 finish under head coach Ken Whisenhunt. That putrid play down the stretch ultimately got him fired as part of the long line of Black Monday pink slip victims.
With Rod Graves being relieved of his duties as general manager, serious winds of change are blowing in the desert. The new GM will largely dictate which replacements best suit the Cardinals' organization, but there are several quality candidates that would fit nicely regardless.
Here is a breakdown of the best candidates to succeed Whisenhunt in Arizona.
The notion of Reid being reunited with former Philadelphia Eagles QB Kevin Kolb has some traction. According to reports by ESPN's Adam Schefter and Dave Dulberg of ArizonaSports.com, Reid could definitely emerge as a viable candidate for the Cardinals coaching job.
With Reid already calling around the league to build a coaching staff, it's clear he has intentions of roaming a different sideline after his 14-year tenure in Philadelphia came to an end on Black Monday.
The Cardinals invested a lot of money in Kolb, and there aren't many attractive options coming in the 2013 draft at the QB position. If Kolb can stay on the field and have the luxury of familiarity with Reid's system, Arizona's offense could rise significantly from their putrid 2012 form.
Defense clearly isn't the problem with this bunch, as the unit continues to improve toward the standard set by their NFC West rivals. But there's no question the Cards need to put points on the board.
With talented skill players such as superstar Larry Fitzgerald, first-round pick Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts at receiver—not to mention physically gifted TE Rob Housler—there are pieces in place for the offense to be explosive.
It comes down to a quarterback who can get those playmakers the ball, and an offensive mind that can push the right buttons. But the offensive line must improve as well.
Few coaches have the resume Reid boasts, and he likely gives the Cardinals the best chance of an immediate turnaround.
As Arizona's defensive coordinator for the past two years, Horton has transformed this team's defense into one of the league's premier units in spite of an anemic offense.
Horton was brought over by Whisenhunt, since the two knew each other from their time together with the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. Thanks to valuable knowledge Horton gained as an assistant while observing legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the Cardinals have thrived in his own blitz-heavy scheme.
Although the Cards rank only 28th against the run, that's more due to the fact that the offense kept them on the field more than most—without providing any points.
There's no doubt that Horton is emerging as a hot name in coaching circles. If Arizona doesn't retain him, he will likely land his first head coaching gig elsewhere. Defensive end Calais Campbell certainly seems to think so (h/t Washington Post):
I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a lot of different offers because he’s very talented at what he does. He’s smart, he understands the game, he’s a great motivational speaker. I think he’ll make a great head coach. He has that passion for winning.
Should Horton succeed with a different franchise immediately—and there's not much to indicate that he wouldn't—the Cardinals would feel like they missed out terribly.
Keeping the coaching search in-house would certainly simplify matters, and Horton clearly has the respect of his players already. He could hire a brilliant offensive mind to focus solely on improving the offense while continuing to build a strong defense.
The Cardinals' current personnel may not fit the type of scheme Shanahan has been running with the Washington Redskins this season. But as the Skins proved, it took one draft and a couple of moves in free agency to get that done.
Granted, there is no Robert Griffin III in the upcoming draft, but the Cardinals do have some talented running backs and receivers to make Shanahan's version of the West Coast offense work.
As we glimpsed when Kirk Cousins started in relief of RGIII, it can work with even a moderately mobile QB. That seems to fit the description with Kevin Kolb, but what makes Shanahan intriguing is that he might be able to pull Cousins with him due to his promise as a starting job.
Taking a chance on Cousins may be viewed as a huge risk, but he would be an upgrade over everyone on the Cardinals' current roster except for Kolb. Maybe.
Whether Washington would give up Cousins is another matter. Still, it is an intriguing possibility, and a package deal that the Cardinals should strongly consider.
As documented by Mark Maske of the Washington Post, Redskins backup QB Rex Grossman gives Shanahan a ringing endorsement to take the reins of one of the league's floundering franchises:
He just has a great understanding of the whole game, how to relate to players. He’s a great play-caller and people gravitate toward him. Those are the biggest characteristics you need to be a head coach.
Everything has worked out nicely, and with nine years already under his belt as a coach, it's time for Kyle Shanahan to take the next step.
Even if Cousins isn't part of the picture with Shanahan coming aboard, the 33-year-old coach gives the organization a fresh face and a play-caller who knows how to maximize the skill sets of his players. For a team desperate to find the end zone after averaging just 15.6 points per game, Shanahan would be a wonderful fit.