Jonathan Gannon’s 1st year with Cardinals a success, but ‘not good enough’

Jan 11, 2024, 6:26 PM

In multiple facets, Arizona Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon’s first year in the desert was a success.

A vision was constructed, a foundation set and lessons learned throughout it all.

After looking like a rudderless ship just a year prior, there’s an evident path forward back to relevancy despite a 4-13 mark.

But for all the boxes the Cardinals checked in 2023 and the clearing of a path forward because of them, Gannon will be the first to tell you that’s “not good enough.”

“I’m a pretty bottom-line guy, so not good enough, truthfully — 4-13 — but we set ourselves operating in a way that I think is fit to win football games week in and week out. I think we did that. I think that the players (as far as) the message and the standard and things that we talked about and hung our hat on, I think it got through. They kind of carried that throughout the year, but a lot of improvement needs to be made.”

“I feel like I learned a lot. There’s a lot more I’ve got to learn,” the head coach added. “I’ve got that detailed out already.”

Something the Cardinals can hang their hat on

The Cardinals did not improve their win total from the season prior, the final year under former head coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim. There was zero positive growth in that department, yet the two seasons could not be more different.

On top of the overall feeling of optimism sweeping through the organization, Arizona’s wins this past season were much more impressive than the four in 2022.

In the four wins under Gannon, the Cardinals knocked off three playoff teams in the Dallas Cowboys (12-5), Pittsburgh Steelers (10-7) and Philadelphia Eagles (11-6). The only team that didn’t punch their postseason ticket was the Atlanta Falcons, who were right there fighting for a playoff spot right up until the final week.

Those victories look a whole lot better than the wins Kingsbury and Co. picked up over the Las Vegas Raiders (6-11), Carolina Panthers (7-10), New Orleans Saints (7-10) and Los Angeles Rams (5-12).

Again, another clear step in the right direction for Gannon and the new-look Cardinals.

Message to the rookies

Arizona’s batch of 2023 rookies covered about every inch of the playing spectrum following a whirlwind of a Year 1 that started with a non-stop offseason filled with evaluations, workouts and the draft.

Some like offensive lineman and first-rounder Paris Johnson Jr. played every available snap. Others like fourth-round pick Jon Gaines II didn’t play a down due to injury.

But regardless of playing time or 2023 role, it’s on the young guns to take that necessary step forward in what will be their first full NFL offseason.

“Not to say this is everybody, but in our experience, a lot of guys make a huge jump from Year 1-2,” Gannon said. “And that jump sets them up for really what their role is going to be with that team or even with another team. They checked the box of price of admission and every one of them had a different role and some of their roles ascended, some of their roles decreased a little bit. Some of them grew into some different roles. Basically, when you look at that rookie class, we had all ends of the spectrum — but their job moving forward is to take that jump, football-playing-wise. ‘Hey, make sure that you have the role that you have right now, and then go above and beyond that role, whatever that looks like.’

“And then also a piece to that is you are no longer rookies. You are responsible in your own way to when these new guys come in to show them how we do things. … They’re going to assimilate that role, too. But very pleased with how they’ve come along. … They need a break because they’ve been going at it. I think they’ll reset and come back and just what we just talked about, that’s what our guys will do.”

Potential poaching of Arizona Cardinals coaching?

Adding to the roster is a big piece of the puzzle for Gannon and Cardinals as they move into the brunt of the offseason.

That’s not the only area to watch, though, as coaching staffs can change from year to year.

For Gannon, it’s more about limiting potential subtractions rather than bring in new additions.

“I probably don’t compliment those guys enough. You guys ask me about certain players and things like that and it always starts with coaching,” Gannon said. “Those guys did a hell of a job this year in a tough year. I’ve been in some lean years as I’d call them where we’d only win a couple games here or there, and you see staff start to have dissension. The attitude changes and you start pointing fingers, placing blame on things and go into self-preservation mode. … I thought the staff did a really good job of staying connected, keeping the guys positive, focused and improving the players.

“Honestly, in the seat that I’m in, I’m worried about losing guys because — I’m not going to get into specifics — my phone’s ringing a lot right now. So, I’ve got to make sure that we keep the right pieces here.”

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