Kliff Kingsbury Fired as Cardinals HC; Steve Keim Resigns as GM After 4-13 Season

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 9, 2023

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - AUGUST 27: Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals watches his team warm up before a preseason game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on August 27, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans defeated the Cardinals 26-23.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals have fired head coach Kliff Kingsbury after four seasons, and general manager Steve Keim announced his decision to resign from the team.

Arizona Cardinals @AZCardinals

<a href="https://t.co/kmFtYdQd4n">pic.twitter.com/kmFtYdQd4n</a>

Arizona went 28-37-1 in his four years on the sideline. His ouster comes after the team fell well short of expectations in 2022. The extent to which ownership soured on the 43-year-old is evident by the fact that he signed a contract extension in March 2022.

Keim signed an extension at the same time. His future was thrown into doubt after he took an indefinite leave of absence for health reasons in December.

The 50-year-old had been with the organization since 1999, getting hired as a regional college scout. He worked his way up to general manager in 2013.

Keim's promotion came shortly before the hiring of Bruce Arians, which ushered in a brief run of success. Arians guided the Cardinals to two playoff trips and the NFC title game in 2015.

But the need for a shakeup in both the front office and coaching staff became inescapable.

As it relates to Kingsbury, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport noted this feels more like a mutual parting of ways because the relationship "wasn't working for either side."

Rapoport also said Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph should get a "long look" to replace Kingsbury as he's "very respected in the building."

The Washington Post's Jason La Canfora reported on Dec. 6 that executives around the NFL "are anticipating Arizona to have a new coach next season."

Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported on Sunday the Cardinals hadn't made a final decision on Kingsbury but were "preparing in recent weeks for a potential coaching search."

Even if no course of action had been firmed up to that point, it certainly sends a message when ownership is already pondering a coaching search before its current coach is even out the door.

In December, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler and Josh Weinfuss offered insight into the drama inside the Cardinals, detailing how Kingsbury's relationships with Keim, team owner Michael Bidwill and star quarterback Kyler Murray "have soured to varying degrees the past two years."

A source was quoted in the piece saying Kingsbury might resign because he was "tired of the B.S."

Arizona took a major leap of faith with Kingsbury when it hired him in 2019. He had never coached at the NFL level before and had had a losing record (35-40) in his six years in charge at his alma mater, Texas Tech.

There was at least a method to the madness. Targeting a young, offensive-minded head coach made sense for a franchise that was about to make Murray its quarterback of the future. Kingsbury, a disciple of spread offense specialist Mike Leach, could theoretically utilize the 2019 No. 1 pick's special skill set to great effect.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Kingsbury's tenure followed a similar arc to his time at Texas Tech; they continually faded down the stretch of a season.

Arizona opened at 3-3-1 in 2019 and lost seven of its last nine games. That wasn't too concerning since nobody was looking for him to deliver results right away.

An overtime victory in Week 7 of the 2020 campaign appeared to be a defining moment for an up-and-coming team. Sitting at 5-2 heading into their bye, the Cardinals finished 8-8 and missed the postseason.

Although they did reach the playoffs in 2021, dropping four of their final five games in the regular season took the wind out of their sails. They proceeded to gain 183 yards in an NFC Wild Card Round loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Arizona's second-half collapses were happening too frequently to be a coincidence.

Thor Nystrom @thorku

Kliff Kingsbury career as HC<br><br>Games 1-7: 45-24-1 (57.0%)<br>Rest of year: 17-45 (27.4%)

Kingsbury hasn't succeeded in making the Cardinals a dynamic offensive team, either. They finished 2022 ranked 30th in offensive efficiency at Football Outsiders.

That's owed partially to Murray's development stagnating even before he suffered a season-ending torn ACL.

As a rookie, the 5'10" signal-caller threw for 3,722 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while finishing with a 57.7 QBR, per Pro Football Reference.

In his fourth season, the 25-year-old threw for 2,368 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions with a 51.1 QBR before suffering a torn ACL in Week 14.

Murray is a two-time Pro Bowler, so it's not as though he has been a complete flop. But he hasn't had the kind of breakthrough that, for example, Josh Allen enjoyed in 2020.

The blame for that shouldn't fall solely on Kingsbury, though.

The hastily dropped "homework" clause in Murray's five-year, $230.5 million extension raised some obvious questions about his level of commitment off the field.

Patrick Peterson offered a withering assessment of his former Cardinals teammate on the All Things Covered podcast in November:

All Things Covered @ATCoveredPod

"Kyler Murray don't care about nobody but Kyler Murray"<br><br>Patrick Peterson comments on what's going on with his former team the Cardinals, since they are always in the news. <br><br>Full discussion 👇<a href="https://t.co/imFgoT1fgs">https://t.co/imFgoT1fgs</a> <a href="https://t.co/1XYkBTJKzT">pic.twitter.com/1XYkBTJKzT</a>

The consensus about Kingsbury could evolve over time if the same general problems with the Cardinals continue under a new coach.

For now, though, it is tough to argue he was getting the most out of the roster, and there was little to indicate from his career to this point that a transformation was on the horizon.

Whoever succeeds Kingsbury will have a serious challenge on their hands. Murray's ACL injury will presumably force him to miss time in 2023, and it's not a foregone conclusion he can retain his same explosiveness once he recovers.

If Murray isn't the guy for the Cardinals, then it will have serious long-term ramifications. They own the No. 3 pick in the 2023 NFL draft to figure out what direction they want to go.