ARIZONA CARDINALS

Replacing a fired Kliff Kingsbury would be a tough sell for Cardinals

Jan 6, 2023, 11:12 AM
Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury watches play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during t...

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury watches play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Next week, after a season-ender against the San Francisco 49ers, we will learn whether the Arizona Cardinals opt to fire head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

If Michael Bidwill intends to reset, the challenge of replacing Kingsbury begins with a bit of selling on the owner’s part.

For one, the Cardinals enter their offseason with general manager Steve Keim on a health-related hiatus. Whether he’s in charge or someone else eventually replaces him, a new coach would need to be confident in working with that leader — or even having a say in helping to make that hire.

In the past few years, Keim’s staff has gone all-in on winning with players like Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins on long-term deals. Arizona has buoyed the roster with veterans and traded a good amount of draft picks for Marquise Brown, Zach Ertz and Robbie Anderson, among others.

Losing even late-round picks has done something to limit the depth on the team in the past few years, which bit Arizona this season as injuries struck.

Even though there might be relatively few open head-coaching positions this cycle, Arizona and Bidwill would have an unenviable task of finding a leader who 1) connects with and develops Murray 2) leads a rebuilding team through a projected bumpy cultural shift and 3) sees all that and yet wants to take the Cardinals job over others.

Former NFL executive Joe Banner wrote on The33rdTeam.com that he would be concerned about Arizona being able to lure the right candidate.

I think we’ve seen that Kingsbury can get Arizona to a certain level — but not beyond. That’s why he’s in trouble.

The decision falls to owner Michael Bidwill, though a recent report suggested Kingsbury is so “miserable” he could resign. Bottom line: His time seems to be running out. If and when he leaves, the Cards can’t fall into the trap of choosing a head coach for Kyler Murray instead of finding someone who’s an exceptional leader for the team. This is going to be a tough hire. The future of GM Steve Keim (who is on a leave of absence … because of health reasons) is uncertain, and the cap situation isn’t great.

My guess: Arizona will be challenged if the Cards want the same coach as another franchise with an opening.

Banner spent nearly two decades as the Philadelphia Eagles’ president (1995-2012) and served as CEO of the Cleveland Browns from 2012-13.

The former front office leader is not alone in worrying about how easy an NFL head-coaching position in Arizona will be able to sell.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell ranked a potential Cardinals opening fifth among seven teams considered.

Pros: Quarterback, cap space, potential for football czar role
Cons: Lack of talent on roster, division, injury woes

For a coach seeking a powerful role, this could be an opportunity. Most of the other teams on this list already have a general manager in place or are likely to hire both a new coach and general manager. The Cardinals might be the only opportunity to get two jobs in one and, as Bill Parcells once put it, be able to shop for the groceries and cook the dinner. That sort of opportunity could appeal to experienced coaches who want that power to come back to the league.

Despite his baggy contract, Murray’s potential — he indeed was in the MVP discussion midway through 2021 — makes him a draw to the desert if a coach believes he can get the most out of the quarterback.

But a coach will have to be prepared to be patient. Murray’s ACL recovery, which could linger into the start of next season, will provide a challenge off the bat for any head coach.

Arizona enters next year with the offensive line looking like it’ll be completely revamped outside left tackle D.J. Humphries, and the defensive line is losing J.J. Watt to retirement. With Zach Allen entering free agency, that side of the ball has a few too many questions to be comfortable at the moment.

We come back to Keim’s selling of draft assets for ready-to-go players in the past three seasons. That’s bloated the salary cap and taken away pieces to rebuild. There are ways out of that problem, but it could take some time.

Hopkins is obviously tradeable if he does not want to be part of a rebuild, and that type of move might help the Cardinals recoup some of that lost capital. Barnwell knows that but brings up this warning:

Taking a season to clean out the cap while building up their infrastructure on either side of the line of scrimmage would be a thoughtful way to approach their long-term future, even if things get worse in the short term.

The last time the Cardinals were truly bad before this was 2018, and ownership showed it had little patience for a rebuild. The Cardinals fired Steve Wilks after one season and gave up on first-round pick Josh Rosen, with Keim then using the No. 1 overall pick to draft Murray. Keim was right to take a second swing on a quarterback, but that was his only successful draft over the past seven years. Any coach coming in here would be worried about being one and done if the Cardinals crater again.

As it stands, the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers and Colts fired their head coaches midseason and have openings.

The Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, Washington Commanders and Cardinals are the most likely to join them in the hunt for a new leader.

Murray’s presence stands out to help a Cardinals head-coaching job look enticing.

To further separate Arizona from the lot, Bidwill in a potential hiring process would have to clarify the leadership structure quickly and empower the next coach to lead his own way.

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Replacing a fired Kliff Kingsbury would be a tough sell for Cardinals