Arizona Cardinals Stripped from the Top Down, What's Next Heading into 2013?
A short time ago, Arizona Cardinals team president Michael Bidwill finished addressing the media at his press conference where he confirmed the firings of general manager Rod Graves, head coach Ken Whisenhunt and every other offensive assistant outside of tight end's coach Freddie Kitchens.
The entire defensive coaching staff remained intact, and special teams coach Kevin Spencer was retained as well. No specific reason as to why Kitchens was the only offensive coach retained, but it was definitely the right move to keep Spencer.
According to Football Outsiders, his special teams unit was the 11th best in the league this year and the 11th best in the league last year. It doesn't hurt your cause when you have one of the best return men in the game returning punts and kicks.
During his presser, Mr. Bidwill elaborated on why Graves and Whisenhunt were fired. Without question, the biggest contributing factor was simply the lack of success Arizona has had the last three seasons:
“It came down to wins and losses and the direction I felt like the team was going,” Bidwill said (h/t The Washington Post). “...It was a decision that I made over the last several weeks and came to a final decision last night.”
He went on to add that he wasn't happy where this team was at in comparison to the rest of the NFC West:
When you look at the other teams in the NFC West, they were making dramatic improvements, especially the 49ers and the Seahawks, so I felt like we’ve got to get back to where we’re competing at the highest level to win the NFC West.
It's hard to argue with that sentiment. Since the Cardinals last made the playoffs in 2009, Arizona has compiled 18 wins and 30 losses. During his entire six-year tenure as Cards head coach, he only managed two winning seasons and two playoff appearances.
Nonetheless, Whisenhunt has had more wins than any other coach in Cardinals history. He finished his career at 45-51 during the regular season and 4-2 during the playoffs. Over the last 20 years, Arizona has only made the playoffs three times; two of those three appearances can be accredited to Whiz.
Not to mention he also took them to their only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
Whisenhunt thanked the Bidwill family for the opportunity:
I’m very proud of what we as a team and as an organization achieved during that time. Collectively we accomplished some very special and unprecedented things. That’s a testament to the dedication, hard work and talent of so many coaches, players and people throughout the organization.
Whiz wouldn't have had to thank anybody and say his goodbyes if he could have gotten the Cards' quarterback situation under control. With Kurt Warner, the first three years of his coaching tenure seemed like a breeze. But the three following his retirement were anything but spectacular.
Injuries and inefficiency at the quarterback position ultimately held this team back from 2010 to 2012. During that three-year span, six different quarterbacks started for Arizona and seven logged playing time.
Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer were the six starters, and Rich Bartel was the one additional player who made a relief appearance. Not quite the most impressive group of NFL-caliber quarterbacks known to man.
It's incredible how often NFL head coaches lose their job based on the performance of their quarterback. In today's NFL, you don't win without a top-tier quarterback. Gone are the days of defenses winning championships—quarterbacks win championships.
Which leads me to my next question, where does Arizona go from here to clean up this mess? Do the Cardinals stay in house and promote Steve Keim to general manager and defensive coordinator Ray Horton to head coach?
Keim is currently the vice president of player personnel and has been with the organization since 1999. Horton was hired as defensive coordinator on February 9, 2011. In his first two years he has taken Arizona's defense to a level it hasn't seen since the early 2000s.
Respectively, the Cardinals had the 18th-best defense in 2011 and the 12th-best defense in 2012. This year's top-15 finish marked the first time the Cardinals finished inside the top 15 since 2002. Despite having the 32nd-ranked offense, Horton's defense kept this team as competitive as humanly possible.
So, it's no surprise that he is drawing interest from the Bidwill family and other owners from around the league.
However, Horton isn't the only coach Arizona will turn its immediate attention to:
To recap: Bidwill will interview Broncos OC Mike McCoy, ex-Eagles HC Andy Reid and Cards DC Ray Horton to start with HC opening.— Darren Urban (@Cardschatter) December 31, 2012
Andy Reid would be quite the hire considering his ability to develop quarterbacks, yet it's not logical to think he would come to Arizona if he had a more attractive offer. The 2013 quarterback class is looking to be quite thin, and the free-agent class of quarterbacks is even worse.
Reid would have to be sold on Kolb to make a move to the desert. But think about it, if anyone could get the most out of Kolb, it would be Reid—an enticing hire to say the least.
Who should be the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2013?
Another enticing scenario would be him and Horton together. Let's just say Horton doesn't become a head coach and he stays in Arizona. The offense guru Reid paired with the defensive guru Horton would be one scary combination for the opposition.
Obviously, it's still early in the process. By the end of the week we should have a better idea of who the main head coaching candidates for Arizona will be. It's also worth noting that the Cardinals could possibly hire a head coach before they hire a general manager or vice versa.
It's all about the fit first and foremost. From there, everything else will fall into place. The next couple of weeks will be exciting times for an organization that is trying to recapture its winning ways.
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