Standout quotes during Steve Wilks’ season as Cardinals head coach
While he didn’t produce the same soundbites in front of cameras as his predecessor, Steve Wilks became head coach of the Arizona Cardinals because of a different variety of strong leadership qualities.
Wilks replaced the retired Bruce Arians in January of 2018 coming off a tenure with the Carolina Panthers as defensive coordinator.
While he held together the Cardinals’ locker room through a 3-13 season to an admirable degree, it wasn’t enough to show on the field, where inconsistency across the board reared its head time and time again.
On Monday, after a 27-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the Cardinals announced that Wilks had been relieved of his duties.
Taking a look back on the season, here is a collection of standout quotes from Wilks and others with the Cardinals that were telling of the coach’s brief tenure in the desert.
“Not just a leader with a high football IQ, but also a high football EQ (emotional quotient). He just doesn’t coach football players, he coaches people. He knows where the players are 15 minutes after they walk into the training facility and makes sure where they are as people, because they aren’t going to be ready to learn and be well-coached if they’ve got any issues outside of the organization.”
The Cardinals wrapped their search second-to-last among the seven teams who were in the market for new coaches last season.
Hiring Wilks was lauded because of his leadership qualities. And though he proved that in Arizona, his schematic abilities with a defensive background didn’t shine through.
“You have your core, what you want to do and what you think you want to be known as but then it’s all about players. We have to adjust to the players we have. There’s going to be injuries during the season at a certain position. Well, if that next guy comes in, what does he do and what type of player he is?”
Mike McCoy came in having coached quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow. The thought was he could squeeze the most out of his players based on their skillset.
It was a nice thought. McCoy failed to do much with veteran quarterback Sam Bradford or rookie Josh Rosen behind center. The same could be said about stars like Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson, whose production improved to some degree once McCoy was fired after Week 8 and replaced by former quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich.
“I’m real pleased with the camp that we had this year. I thought we really came down here and accomplished a lot. Most importantly, trying to continue to emphasize and focus on the fundamentals and techniques of the game — trying to create that mindset, the physicality and most important the effort that’s going to sustain us throughout the year.”
Wilks had his players stretch. On the first day of training camp, the team’s run tests were thorough.
He began one practice with an Oklahoma drill.
It was a culture change all about business, but when the regular season came, results didn’t. The coach who preached fundamentals and technique didn’t frequently get either one during the regular season.
“The nemesis right now is just stopping the run. Got to do a much better job getting off blocks, using our hands, getting downhill and fitting into our gaps. Tackling was the issue.”
A detail-oriented coach, Wilks didn’t like what he saw in a Week 1 loss to the Washington Redskins. The same problems plagued Arizona all the way until the end.
“I don’t think it’s going to get any worse. It can only be better, I would think right now, pushing the ball up the field. I just don’t like the use of David Johnson in this offense. David Johnson is a premier wide receiver and I don’t see him out of the backfield creating the mismatches that he should be out creating and opening up things for Larry Fitzgerald.
“David Johnson, people didn’t realize, he opened up stuff for Larry Fitzgerald because he was used in the slot opposite, or we always put him in position to be opposite of Larry and pick your poison. I got to see David Johnson being used properly for Josh Rosen to even be effective.”
Arians exited the coaching ranks to become a CBS Sports analyst, and he didn’t hide his feelings about the Cardinals’ lack of offensive creativity when he joined the TD Fantasy Podcast just a few games into Wilks’ tenure.
The former coach answered a question about Rosen by criticizing McCoy’s use of Johnson, who was used as a rusher around the center more than any other back in the league. Furthermore, Arizona rarely split him out as a receiver, something that made Johnson so dangerous in his 2016 season under Arians.
“It’s not the mere fact of making it easier. And I told Byron this this morning. Josh is a very smart and intelligent guy. He can handle a lot.”
“I think it’s clarity. That’s what we need, and we didn’t have that.”
“With Byron being here before and being a part of that and understanding some of the success he’s had in the past, hopefully we can tap back on to some of the things David was doing in the past.
When Wilks and the Cardinals fired McCoy and promoted Leftwich following a 45-10 loss to the Denver Broncos, it was about helping Rosen gain clarity in what was expected of him. But Wilks and Leftwich also discussed putting players like Johnson in a better position to succeed.
That the green offensive coordinator did with limited success thanks to a maligned offensive line.
“I talk to Mr. Bidwill every day, almost each and every day of the week. We’re in a good place. We’ll move forward from what happened the other day. I certainly think we have a clear understanding. I have two years left on my contract. I’m here.”
“It came at a bad time and I was just frustrated. You see the record.”
Reports of Peterson asking for at trade request just before the deadline struck Wilks as a surprise. Just two days later, after meeting with Cardinals leaders, including owner Michael Bidwill, the star cornerback expressed his commitment to Arizona moving forward.
Later on, Peterson said he hoped to remain a Cardinal for life, just as his peer, Fitzgerald.
“If you told me back in August that we were starting this week with a rookie left tackle, rookie left guard and rookie center, I think you’d probably wonder who’s going home in a body bag. That’s not the case.”
Joining Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station, GM Steve Keim spoke on the status of Arizona’s offensive line. Indeed, injuries to seven linemen who at one point or other played key roles played a huge part in the Cardinals’ offensive inabilities.
Of course, Keim was speaking of the Cardinals on the field. But his comment stood out for the jobs that appear to have been lost.
“I don’t really say it’s a broken record. I think you can never get away from it. Even if you talk to the playoff teams right now, the great teams, I guarantee you they still talking fundamentals and technique.
“It’s not so much about always trying to over-scheme. The game hasn’t changed. It’s about leverage, it’s about angles, it’s about blocking, it’s about tackling; and we have to do a better job at all of them.”
Asked if preaching technique and fundamentals made him feel like a broken record, Wilks held to his core beliefs even late in the year.
“I always tell the coaches this: there’s always a bubble over the players’ head. As you sit there trying to talk to them, if you really understood what that bubble was saying back, you’d be amazed. There’s a bubble over my head, and if you really knew exactly how I felt inside and what I was saying, you would question my faith at times.”
Wilks admitted he never showed his true feelings when dealing with the media. And as he said after the home finale, a loss to the Los Angeles Rams, he said he would leave the Cardinals with integrity just as he’d entered the job.
“I told guys (after the loss at Atlanta), Coach says he has to do a better job of putting guys in position. I have to tell Coach after that, me as a leader and a captain, I’m tired of hearing Coach say that. You have to get tired of getting your behind handed to you. It starts with you, it starts with us (players).”
All along, even a once-disgruntled Peterson stood behind Wilks the man.
Players continually took accountability without throwing their coach under the bus. And that was something Wilks refused to do to his players.