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Dan Bickley

All that’s left of the Cardinals’ season is Big Red Black Monday

Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 27-24. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SEATTLE – A dog-breath season is mercifully over. All that remains is the day of reckoning, the Big Red Black Monday.

Somebody must pay for the worst NFL season in Arizona sports history.

The obvious choice is to fire Steve Wilks, whose only gift was a message that never wavered after outcomes that never changed. That’s hardly a reason to keep a head coach, and anything less would be an affront to Cardinals fans who waited until Week 17 to see a stout defense and polished special teams.

Here’s further proof and the ugly truth:

The Cardinals saved their most duplicitous performance for last. They played harder than usual, for longer than usual, as if they were trying to save a good man’s job. It was a con job, nothing more than Week 17 in the NFL, where the light at the end of tunnel always elicits peak effort. Nothing motivates an underachieving football player like the impending offseason.

Yet from Larry Fitzgerald to Josh Rosen, the amount of verbal support for Wilks was stunning.

“Pressure either creates diamonds or it busts pipes,” Cardinals safety Tre Boston said. “That’s a diamond right there. I hope they know what they have in Wilks.”

Others called Wilks a “great coach,” which is an insult to the real titans of strategy and the real leaders of men. The Cardinals even announced Wilks’ media availability for Monday, as if the offseason would be business as usual.

And when asked if he deserved to return for a second season, Wilks didn’t hesitate.

“Of course I do,” he said.

Maybe the Cardinals believe they can sell another year of Wilks with major upgrades at defensive coordinator (Todd Bowles) and offensive coordinator (Dirk Koetter). If so, they are ignoring how such a maneuver would emasculate him even further. And if Wilks was such a great head coach, why did his defense quit on him so often? Why did they wait until the final game of the season to show real toughness and staying power? And why did Patrick Peterson request a trade?

You can praise Wilks’ integrity and stoicism. You can say he was marginalized by injuries, a bad staff and a flawed roster. But you can’t call him a great coach. Not with a straight face.

But this is what happens when a locker room knows the head coach is long gone. They come to his defense so they don’t appear to be malcontents or coach killers. This helps their image with future head coaches in Arizona or future employers elsewhere. They’re just playing the game, following Fitzgerald’s lead.

Remember, this is the same locker room that lied about Bruce Arians’ postgame speech to end the 2017 season. They all knew he was gone and said otherwise with total conviction. They know the drill.

But if they truly believe Wilks is a great coach, then the general manager is clearly to blame for a 3-13 season. And he must be fired.

That’s not going to happen. Michael Bidwill isn’t going to fire a GM who indulges a hands-on owner, hangs with him on the road and just produced an excellent class of rookies in 2018. Keim has been a fixture in this organization for a long time and deserves another shot. Much more than Wilks.

It’s also why I don’t believe reports that Mike McCarthy was promised full control of the organization. If true, it paints a worse picture than their 3-13 record. McCarthy isn’t worth that kind of commitment, a man whose offense is so antiquated that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had begun to roll his eyes at some of McCarthy’s play calling. Let others fight for his brand of mediocrity.

But here’s the rub: Wilks’ job security might be enhanced by the lack of options, by an industry-wide belief that Arizona is once again a professional graveyard, and not a good place to serve as head coach in 2019.

Some of that is the sorry state of the roster. Some of that is the indecision of Fitzgerald, who insists he still hasn’t made up his mind about retirement. And some of that is uncertainty about the future of Rosen, who slogged through an erratic season.

Rosen regressed over the final month of the season. On Sunday, he made a litany of mistakes and near-interceptions. He almost overthrew a wide-open Fitzgerald near the goal line, rescued only by a one-handed touchdown catch from a future Hall of Famer.

More than anyone, he needs the right mentor, the right coach and the stability missing from his support staff from the moment he enrolled at UCLA.

The Cardinals can’t be this delusional. Committing to the status quo is no different than a golfer who butchers an entire round only to par the final hole. The team’s body of work speaks for itself. So does the fact that the Cardinals are quickly losing ground in the NFC West.

For now, our nightmare is over. The same is just about true with the worst calendar year in Arizona sports history, where two of our major professional franchises ended up with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. We are too good for these garbage consolation prizes.

So, no, you can’t run this back in 2019. Not with fan interest, attendance and civic confidence eroding at alarming levels. The Cardinals need almost everything, from coaching upgrades to new players to new uniforms.

It starts with a Big Red Black Monday. Anything less would play us all for fools.

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