In 2012, the Arizona Cardinals were a team struggling for air. After a 4-0 start, they quickly fell to a 5-11 finish. Many blamed Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves for their inability to put players in a position to succeed. That was what lead to their ultimate demise shortly after the regular season ended.
Michael Bidwill announced both Rod Graves and Ken Whisenhunt would be fired after an hour behind closed doors. That began the Cardinals rebuild.
Michael Bidwill only had two guys in mind to fill the General Manager roll. Morocco Brown, who is now with the Browns Front Office, and Steve Keim. Keim finally ascended to the roll of General Manager, after countless years in the Scouting Department.
The Cardinals interviewed a number of candidates for coach. Guys like Mike McCoy, Ray Horton, Todd Haley, & Jay Gruden. Bruce Arians was brought in late in the process, but after winning Coach of the Year honors, the Cardinals knew they had to grab him fast.
And thus began one of the more successful partnerships in Cardinals history.
Both men knew their work was cut out for them. Keim during his introductory press conference claimed it was simply a "retooling effort" not a "rebuild". Arians reiterated that sentiment. They built the coaching staff. John Lott, Pete Alosi, and Freddie Kitchens were the only holdovers.
Keim made changes to his group as well. The Cardinals wanted to get rid of the demons of the past, and that started with building a winners mentality.
When Free Agency arrived, the Cardinals quickly hit the market. Jerraud Powers was brought in to be a mentor to the young Patrick Peterson. He also added a familiar face for Bruce Arians. When day two came around, Drew Stanton, Rashard Mendenahll, Yeremiah Bell, and Lorenzo Alexander were also Cardinals. Immediately the Cardinals were addressing the Cardinals weaknesses.
The team made the shocking announcement that they had secured Carson Palmer in a trade from the Raiders, only a few weeks after they signed Stanton.
When Draft Day rolled around, Arians and Keim stuck to adding pieces to their weak spots. Jonathan Cooper was added in the first round. They added a run stopping linebacker in Kevin Minter. A versatile playmaker in Tyrann Mathieu, and continued to build a running game.
As the season started, Arians and Keim were tested. They lost Cooper to injury, and those injuries slowly began to spread. Their depth was strained, and they had to rely on older veterans to get the job done.
When all was said and done, the Cardinals missed the postseason once again. But after only a year, the Cardinals made a five game turnaround finishing 10-6. After playing .500 football through eight weeks, the team won the last six of eight, and had plenty of optimism going into 2014.
In 2014, the Cardinals added a Franchise left tackle in Jared Veldheer, something the franchise had lacked. They added more weapons for Carson Palmer to work with as well.
Despite all of that, the Cardinals were still developing viable depth. The Cardinals lost both Palmer and Stanton during the season, relying on Ryan Lindley to bring them home. The Cardinals finished 11-5, yet lost in the Wildcard round.
2015 was a record year. The team now had depth at nearly every position, Palmer was 100% following a shortened 2014, and the Cardinals as a team were hungry to win a Super Bowl. We all know how it plays out though. A 13-3 finish, franchise records, only to be overshadowed by a NFC Championship Game meltdown.
Under both Arians and Keim the Cardinals have gotten better in the standings each year. They reach new heights every season, and in 2016 there is little reason not to think they will continue that success.
2013 was probably the toughest season for Arians and Keim. They had to take a very untalented roster and make them perform. Keim had to learn to take second chances on players. A lesson he learned by drafting Tyrann Mathieu. Keim has mentioned numerous times that he thinks of Mathieu as his best pick.
As for Arians... Well Arians is still the same. After coaching for more than half his life, he's molded into his ways. He expects perfection from his players, but still knows it takes time to learn something new. He still chews the refs out, uses profane words every other sentence.
They succeeded in many aspects. The trade for Carson Palmer will forever be one of the best moves in Franchise history. The drafting of Tyrann Mathieu has made him the future face of the Franchise, and a fan favorite since day one.
The biggest difference between the Arians/Keim era and the Whisenhunt/Graves era, is perhaps the way they build the roster. Arians and Keim sign players who fit their system, and morph a role for them in their system. Graves and Whisenhunt expected players to fit their system.
Both Arians and Keim were apart of many losing teams. That gave both the opportunity to learn from those mistakes as role players, and develop themselves into the leaders they are now. They built the foundation for success in 2013, despite a lackluster roster, and that's why the Cardinals are contenders to win a Super Bowl, heading into 2016.