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Dan Bickley

Cardinals enter camp saturated in Steve Wilks’ all-business DNA

Arizona Cardinals coach Steve Wilks watches his players during practice at the NFL football team's minicamp Thursday, June 14, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Deep inside Cardinals headquarters, eight meeting rooms have been altered.

Inside each door, a swath of gray carpeting has been replaced by flooring that simulates a football field. Players now step over a white line to get to their desks. The same white line that commands their attention on game day.

“They know right now, in their minds, it’s time to go to work,” head coach Steve Wilks said.

The alteration was Wilks’ idea, one of many recent changes to our NFL franchise. Screws are tightening in Tempe. The new boss moves fast, with energy and purpose. No hats or cellphones are allowed in the meeting rooms. Eating is confined to the cafeteria. Music is heartily encouraged inside the locker room, with a caveat:

“But understand, profanity and vulgar language, I don’t like,” Wilks said.

Yep. It’s going to sound a lot different around here.

On the doorstep of training camp, Wilks shared his philosophy and approach to a select audience. His power-point presentation reenacted his inaugural message to the 2018 Cardinals.

He inspired those in attendance. Like Josh Rosen, he made you feel better about the future. He even juxtaposed pictures of a telescope and a microscope.

“Look in the microscope, and you see things the naked eye cannot,” Wilks said. “You can see the DNA, the physicality, the effort. You can see the playing smart. That’s what we’re focusing on. We don’t want to look in the telescope. The Super Bowl is going to take care of itself.”

You never know what you’re going to get from a rookie head coach, even those who’ve spent a lifetime as NFL underlings. They all know the game, the politics and the business. Few can steer a small army of fierce men without badly compromising their authority along the way.

Former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was an exception, a 60-year old rookie who turned Arizona on its ear. His stubbornness was highly entertaining, always splashed with profanity. Conviction was his greatest strength and in the end, his greatest weakness. His brand of football was served from the hip, from the heart, in a glass over ice cubes. I’ll love him forever.

Wilks is charting a different course. He wants to sharpen the existing culture. He challenged Patrick Peterson to find another level, and the star cornerback seems delighted by the new leadership. And when Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was arrested for DUI, suspended five weeks and fined $200,000, a serious offense became highly symbolic.

It marked an end to the boozy culture atop the organization, no matter how fun it was for everyone.

It’s all business now.

Still:

Rookie head coaches always talk a good game. Wilks is no different, arriving in Arizona with three predictable pillars of success: trust, accountability and commitment. Yawn.

But as training camp beckons, he also seems genuinely in charge. His coaching staff is a major upgrade from the fraternity of friendlies that accompanied his predecessor. He’s survived the sit-down strike of David Johnson and seems to be seizing the moment at a pivotal time following the suspension of the team’s general manager.

Near the end of his presentation, Wilks clicked on a photo of a baseball player. It was Jayson Werth approaching a volcanic party at home plate after his walk-off home run staved off playoff elimination for the 2012 Nationals.

“What do you see?” Wilks asked the crowd.

“A celebration,” a voice responded.

“Celebration, excitement, enthusiasm,” Wilks said. “You know what I see?”

He pointed to the home plate umpire staring at home plate.

“I see focus,” Wilks said. “I see a man concentrating on his job. I see attention to detail. His job doesn’t end until that guy’s foot hits home plate. That’s what he’s focusing on now. And that’s what we have to do each and every day we come in here.”

In the end, a football coach is only as good as his players. The majority are defined by their quarterbacks. They all come in with answers. Nearly all of them get fired. But at the very least, Wilks seems to have found his stride and his voice. You might even say there’s a new sheriff in town.

Hope it works this time.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com.  Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier