The challenges Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon faces in Year 1

Sep 9, 2023, 4:15 PM

Jonathan Gannon...

Head coach Jonathan Gannon of the Arizona Cardinals walks along the sideline during a preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs at State Farm Stadium on August 19, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals don’t need victories in 2023. They need Terra Firma. They need solid ground beneath their feet.

Their goals are embarrassingly modest. They must fail to meet expectations. Because they are expected to be the worst team in the NFL.

Most power rankings rate them dead last, parked at No. 32. Some oddsmakers have them favored to win zero of their 17 games. Their owner is at the center of a burner phone controversy. Their head coach is among Philadelphia’s Most Wanted, blamed by an entire city for mailing in his Super Bowl performance. Some in the media seem to be relishing the come-uppance in Arizona.

Tanking is not an option. Not with a head coach who needs to build credibility and culture. Not with a quarterback at USC who might pile on our recent misfortunes by refusing to play for a dysfunctional organization should the Cardinals have an opportunity to select him with the No. 1 overall pick.

Carl Williams, father of Caleb, hinted as much during a GQ interview, noting how the Cardinals have hindered the development of Kyler Murray. And who knows what former head coach Kliff Kingsbury – the current offensive coordinator at USC – is telling Williams about a potential future in Arizona.

I’m guessing his scouting reports aren’t good.

Off the field, the Cardinals need to get through the season with no more dysfunction. That may be difficult given the recent testimony of former head coach Steve Wilks.

On the field, the Cardinals must play with passion and physicality, regardless of scoreboard or circumstance. They must play like they truly believe in head coach Jonathon Gannon. They must play like they want to defend his honor.

Gannon is the centerpiece of an impossibly young coaching staff. The head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator are 40, 36 and 30, respectively. For whatever reason, the team chose not to hire a mentor for Gannon, a senior assistant who will know what to do when spit hits the fan.

Or maybe Gannon inherently knew that would be a sign of weakness.

In the short term, here’s what Gannon needs the most:

He needs close games. He needs to stay in control, exhibiting leadership and sideline clarity. He needs to identify his starting quarterback for the 2024 season, along with a new core of team leaders. He needs to lead with his chin until he figures it all out, faking it until he’s making it.

From decades of experience with NFL head coaches, I would counsel him to err on the side of audacity and not paranoia.

Alas, the NFL schedule makers did him no favors, placing him opposite the Eagles in Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve. That means the Gannon betrayal story will linger the entire season and conclude in a drunken Broad Street crucible. It would’ve been much better to be facing the Eagles Sunday and turning off that faucet for good.

Either way, this will be a very difficult season for a head coach with no expectations. He must get his players to believe in him and his direction, even if they’re getting their brains knocked out on a weekly basis. Good luck, JG. You’re going to need some.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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