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Michael Bidwill is at a crossroads with this Arizona Cardinals hire

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The Cardinals will be looking at their third head coach in his tenure, but want more sustained success.

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

“Standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona, such a fine sight to see...”

Now in the midst of making his third head coaching hire as president and CEO of the Arizona Cardinals, Michael Bidwill is at a crossroad.

He says that the nine candidates he and GM Steve Keim have interviewed over the past two weeks are the finest group of candidates he’s ever seen. If local reports are accurate, apparently Bidwill and Keim have narrowed their search down to three finalists: Pat Shurmur, Steve Wilks and Mike Munchak.

Bidwill vows to take a methodical approach in order to find “the right fit.”

He wishes to host all three finalists on visits to Arizona so that he can show them the Cardinals’ state-of-the-art facilities, to dig deeper into what makes each candidate tick and to see what kind of camaraderie he and Keim sense while trading stories over steaks and Merlot.

Here is what Ian Rapoport wrote today in his twitter blog:

Arizona Cardinals

This is the most open and methodical search, with owner Michael Bidwill stating publicly he’s taking his time. Expect full second-round interviews and no fast deadline. Shurmur is expected to be one finalist, and Wilks and Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak are well-regarded in Arizona. They could be finalists, as well. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher is the top in-house candidate, and Bruce Arians has stumped for him. Based on their deliberate pace, Arizona does face the prospect of losing out on a preferred candidate (possibly Shurmur) if the Vikings lose and they don’t accelerate their search. That said, the last candidate they interviewed during their previous search -- Bruce Arians -- worked out just fine.

Notice Rapoport’s caveat: “Arizona does face the prospect of losing out on a preferred candidate (possibly Shurmur) if the Vikings lose and they don’t accelerate their search.”

As Shakespeare would say, “the tide waits for no one.”

Bidwill maintains that his deliberate search in 2013, waiting to be the last of 8 teams to hire new head coaches was a boon. Rapoport corroborates this by saying “their previous search---worked out just fine.”

Which begs the question---is a 1-2 playoff record over the past five years a scenario that worked out just fine? Even by Bruce Arians’ own All or Nothing standards, despite an impressive 50 wins and one NFC West title, a 1-2 playoff record over the past five years doesn’t exactly feel like things worked out just fine.

Bidwill also has to be wondering why the Cardinals could not maintain a level of success under Ken Whisenhunt and Bruce Arians.

The pattern here is alarming. Once each coach started winning, Bidwill awarded them and their staffs lucrative contract extensions...and in both cases those decisions backfired. Whisenhunt’s last two years were poor. Arians’ were, by comparison, a little more tolerable due to late season wins in meaningless games, but still, the Cardinals went from being a Super Bowl contender right back to be the underachieving, self-destructive Cardinals of old.

In both cases, Bidwill has shown his willingness to eat the contracts of the coaches who have years remaining. But that’s certainly a pattern he would like to avoid, if possible, in the future. It wouldn’t be surprising, in light of Bidwill’s generosity, if he gave BA a nice little severance package in aiding BA’s decision to retire. Regardless, Bidwill is willing to push forward even when it means paying backward.

Bidwill also has to be wondering what went wrong in the years following the team’s biggest successes. After losing to the Steelers in the Super Bowl, the following off-season was a near disaster. Kurt Warner was so underwhelmed by the Cardinals contract offer that he and his wife flew to San Francisco to be wooed by the 49ers. Yes, Warner wound up staying in Arizona, but Warner recently admitted that by mid-season of the next year he and his wife knew it would be his last, even though he signed a two-year contract. Warner also admitted a long time ago that the contract negotiations were demoralizing.

The off-season following the Cardinals’ embarrassing loss to Carolina in the NFC Championship game was in some ways equally disappointing, especially in considering a draft which included Bidwill’s own approval of taking DT Robert Nkemdiche in the 1st round and CB Brandon Williams in the 3rd round. Even though the #2 CB position has been a glaring weakness for years, the FO and the coaches felt that Justin Bethel (whom they had signed to a $5+M a year contract) was the answer at that critical and most vulnerable spot. As we know, Bethel waited too long to get surgery on his foot, missed training camp and the super raw (rushed in there way too soon) Williams started game one versus the Patriots and got toasted. BA would later call Bethel a “failure in progress” and would later concede that the opening night loss to the Patriots, aided and abetted by Steve Keim’s decision to go with an undrafted rookie long snapper, was a loss the team could never recover from.

The reality is that the Cardinals, throughout their history as a franchise, have not been able to sustain a level of success for more than three years. The tenures of Bidwill’s first two head coaching hires ended the same way...on down years with each coach claiming, “the system works,” or “we don’t change for anybody.”

Bidwill and Keim avow they want to build a team that is a Super Bowl contender every year. Keim asserts that he “owes it to the fans.”

However, are Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim assertive enough in the way that they approach their work? This year it was reported that Bidwill had his eye on Sean McVay last year when BA’s health was in question. It was impressive to hear that---but it feels the same it felt when Steve Keim said he had a high grade on Russell Wilson and the Cardinals almost took him on day 2 of the 2012 draft...hmmm the same he year they drafted Ryan Lindley instead.

As we know, McVay is up for coach of the year honors for leading the Rams to the NFC West title. Yet, Bidwill made a curious statement in his most recent press conference when he said, “We don’t copycat anyone.” One must imagine that was in reference to this year’s young, energetic and upcoming HC candidate, John DeFilippo...curious too that a week prior to BA’s retirement, the buzz was that if BA retires Bidwill and Keim are interested in two possible candidates: Bill O’Brien (if let go by the Texans) and John DeFilippo.

Who wouldn’t want a young catalyst like Sean McVay?

Who could care less if it is perceived as copycatting?

Maybe Bidwill was trying to justify why DeFilippo is not one of the three reported finalists?

But this is a significant hire for Bidwill. With the Cardinals sinking toward the bottom of the NFC West, it would be extremely refreshing if he and Steve Keim know exactly which coach they want and they go after that coach with every ounce of aggressiveness and conviction they have.

The let’s wait and see, deliberate approach smacks of indecision. And as they say, “over-analysis causes paralysis.”

And if the Cardinals pick their head coach last again this time, the worry is, as Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker wailed:

I went down to the crossroads
Tried to flag a ride
Down to the crossroads
Tried to flag a ride
Nobody seemed to know me
Everybody passed me by