Cardinals ‘went backwards’ under Steve Wilks, Bidwill says
TEMPE, Ariz. — Just like Arizona Cardinals fans, team president Michael Bidwill and GM Steve Keim didn’t like what they saw or what they heard this season.
The results came swiftly with the firing of head coach Steve Wilks on Monday.
“I never expected this, to be in this position,” Bidwill said just more than 11 months after hiring Wilks to replace the retired Bruce Arians.
The Cardinals looked at the record and the lack of competitive games in making the final decision to pull the plug on Wilks’ tenure as head coach. While Bidwill and Keim didn’t speak in depth about what went wrong, the obvious came across as they attempted to forge full-steam ahead into a second coaching search in a year’s time.
“The fact we went backwards on both offense and defense,” determined Wilks’ fate, according to Bidwill.
“Looking at his plan for 2019, I just didn’t feel like it was a plan I wanted to get behind, that would turn us around and get us back to the type of football that we expect and our fans deserve.”
Bidwill did give Wilks the full season to fight for his job out of respect for the first-time coach. But he admitted that in speaking about the future with Wilks, the parties did not discuss potential coaching staff changes that could keep Wilks on board for 2019.
Arizona finished 2018 with the worst scoring offense of 32 teams (14.1 points per game) and 26th in scoring defense (26.6 points per game). Under Wilks and defensive coordinator Al Holcomb, the Cardinals had the worst rushing defense per game (154.9), which negated any good things they did by allowing the fourth-fewest passing yards per game (203.9).
It wasn’t a matter of the Cardinals switching from a base 3-4 defense under Arians’ staff to a 4-3. Rather, it was failure on the coaching staff’s part in fitting the players into the defense, teaching them assignments and quickly plugging any holes due to injury.
Most notably, two of Keim’s first-round draft picks, linebackers Deone Bucannon and Haason Reddick, were benched early on in the season.
“I think at the end of the day, you have to cater to your defensive strengths,” Keim said. “The fact that it didn’t get right sooner than later, that was a real sticking point.
“Didn’t honestly feel we were growing as a football team and headed in the right direction,” the GM added.
Offensively, under offensive coordinators Mike McCoy and then Byron Leftwich, Arizona was last in total yards, passing yards, rushing yards and points per game.
Injuries played their part in the Cardinals ending the year with three wins. Along the offensive line, all the projected starters from the preseason ended the year on the injured reserve list. Rookie receiver Christian Kirk, their biggest weapon, also went down.
The Cardinals waived their starting quarterback, Sam Bradford, and right tackle, Andre Smith, during the year.
And on defense, middle linebacker Josh Bynes ended the year on the IR while Wilks’ staff waived two cornerbacks who started multiple games opposite Patrick Peterson.
Bidwill said injuries weren’t an excuse. He cited past seasons of Arians’ staff taking health problems on with a next-man-up mentality and quickly introducing players off the street into key roles.
“One thing about a head coach is you’ve got to make changes or adjustments, whether it’s in-game or in a season,” Bidwill said.
“That’s where you rely on your coaching staff, to get your next players ready. That’s where the coaches made a huge difference.”
Cardinals injured players (Keim era)
2013 – 170 missed games (127 on IR)
2014 – 166 missed games (91 on IR)
2015 – 148 missed games (108 on IR)
2016 – 212 missed games (178 on IR)
2017 – 242 missed games (196 on IR)
2018 – 240 missed games (200 on IR)
(Via injury report stats on Pro-Football-Reference.com)