Arizona Cardinals’ Michael Bidwill at own crossroads with changes looming

Jan 8, 2023, 5:29 PM | Updated: Jan 9, 2023, 8:47 am

Culture change has become a cliché in sports. The problem is very real in Arizona.

The Cardinals need an industrial-sized overhaul. They need an owner smart enough to look in the mirror and brave enough to step outside his comfort zone.

Changes are certainly coming following Sunday’s 38-13 loss to the 49ers in Santa Clara.

The Cardinals need an architect. They need a general manager to be hired from a pool of external candidates. Internal promotions are not acceptable. Internal promotions cannot be considered. Not after the dysfunction, scandal, and embarrassment of 2022.

That would be the sign of a timid, cheap, unserious organization.

The Cardinals also need a new leader. Kliff Kingsbury lacks the alpha-male presence his profession demands. He’s a peer-to-peer head coach, and a mediocre one at that. Give him credit for grinding, for thick skin, and for admirable work ethic. But his record in Arizona is 28-37-1, very much like his record at Texas Tech (35-40).

Sean Payton is the homerun hire. He would cost a lot of money and assets. Don’t tell me Michael Bidwill can’t afford it. Jim Harbaugh would also be a game-changing addition. Both are impact coaches worth every penny they will command.

Bidwill must recognize the screaming need for a head coach who is almost electric with power, who instills faith and fear alike inside his locker room. Look at what Brian Daboll did for the Giants. Look at what Doug Pederson did for the Jaguars. They turned punchline programs into playoff teams overnight.

That’s the kind of candidate Bidwill must target.

There are rumblings that Bidwill will consider defensive coordinator Vance Joseph as Kingsbury’s replacement. Now, I believe Joseph has been one of the few shining lights in 2022, and his defense was far better than its final metrics. But as evidenced by HBO’s Hard Knocks, his voice is already one of the loudest in the room. Fair or not, he’s attached to the current dysfunctional culture, the one at the root of all problems.

Maybe the calculus changes if the new general manager decides Joseph is the best option for a one-year transition period, a 2023 season that might feature a late-arriving Kyler Murray and the cap hit that comes with trading an unhappy DeAndre Hopkins. Then Joseph becomes a palatable choice. But only if it’s the new GM who makes that decision.

Bidwill’s most dangerous play is the one many fans are fearing the most: promoting Adrian Wilson and Quentin Harris to roles of co-general manager, and elevating Joseph to new head coach. This is no time for inexperience or in-house experiments.

I remember the first Cardinals home game I covered after arriving in Arizona as a new sports columnist. I looked out from the press box at Sun Devil Stadium and saw rows and rows of empty aluminum bleachers. The announced crowd that day was just over 36,000. I wondered silently if I had made a big mistake. Many longtime diehards remember the dark futility that came with Bill Bidwill’s Cardinals, and they cannot be blamed for seeing the same warning signs, the fear of history repeating itself.

To his credit, Michael Bidwill has brought legitimacy, respect, and a few Super Bowls to Arizona. He’s earned a lot of wealth and praise along the way. But now he’s at his own crossroads. His popularity is waning, his franchise is floundering, and his fan base is vowing real mutiny if real changes aren’t forthcoming.

Bidwill has been very quiet and private on the matter, surely aware of those pesky leaks that now spring from his organization. But a big moment is coming. He knows. We know it. The NFL knows it.

Let’s hope he surprises us. With a new path, a new culture, and a much-needed jolt of hope.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6-10 a.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7.

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