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Cards Still Suffering From BA Hangover

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Houston Texans
Nov 19, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians reacts after a play during the third quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Former Cardinals’ head coach Bruce Arians always maintained, “It’s a short ride from the penthouse to the sh**house.”

And now, without Arians at the helm, the Cardinals, at 1-6 under new head coach Steve Wilks, are feeling especially haunted, not only by the former coach’s admonitions, but by the after effects of Arians’ 5 year trays of “coach ‘em up hard, hug ‘em later” cocktails.

Arians arrived in Arizona in 2013 with the unmistakable swag of a gambler who has been told by Casino Royale that he can play with all the house money he wants. Team president Michael Bidwill said that he and GM Steve Keim knew Arians was their guy when he dropped a cascade of f-bombs over cocktails at their “get to know you” Steak 44 gathering.

When you can play with the house money, you can re-invent a whole new public persona, as Arians did when he donned his now signature Kangol hats and when he entertained the Arizona media like The Piano Man—-”he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke”—-except that in Arians’ case—-there was “no place” else where he would “rather be.”

When you play with the house money you can say whatever you want, whenever you want. You can swear like a sailor and not have to walk the plank. You can use salty nicknames. You can call people around you “failures in progress.” You can write an autobiography and call yourself the “QB Whisperer” even though that moniker had previously been ascribed to a venerable assistant coach named Tom Moore. You can inform the world that you are starting up your own coaching tree—-and that several of the assistants are sure-fire head coaches in training and waiting. But, most of all, you can f-bomb the players all day long under the premise that you will hug them later.

For the past 5 years—-BA was the alpha who had complete control of the organization. Bruce Arians liked it that way.

But, Arians’ alpha-driven modus operandi began to backfire on him his last two years. There comes a point when no matter how any times one says “good dog” to a canine whom one has been spank-training that the dog will start to cower or to growl in the presence of his master.

Just yesterday former Cardinals WR John Brown explained why he felt he was mistreated by Arians and the coaches and how it broke his spirit and will. Here’s the link:

Curiously, last year Arians started training camp by declaring that he had 10 “NFL quality” WRs in ‘the room” and within two weeks of camp he was saying that only one of them, Larry Fitzgerald, was worth a dang, especially seeing as half of the 10 were sidelined with soft tissue issues. When the real games began, the WRs other than Fitz were dropping passes and looking like nervous Nellies.

Tyrann Mathieu, who was one of BA’s favorite players, appeared to be equally dispirited at times last year. There were others.

The old school Bear Bryant philosophy of coaching can still be found at some colleges—-like at the University of Alabama with head coach Nick Saban.

The Steelers have typically taken an old school approach forward—-but they do a very good job of acquiring players who fit their mold. They remain one of the few franchises that is competitive year in and year out.

What the Cardinals had to do if they wanted to maintain Arians’ early success is draft and sign players who could adapt to and thrive in an old school environment. In retrospect, one has to question whether GM Steve Keim did the proper vetting of the draft prospects on his board. Right off the bat, it would appear that first round draft picks T D.J. Humphries and DT Robert Nkemdiche were ones to jump out as not being Arians’ type of players.

It’s a mystery as to why Keim didn't target more of Nick Saban’s players at Alabama and programs that still favor an old school approach, often times electing to draft sleeper picks from small schools—-which, when you think about it—-was a huge gamble considering Arians’s style and the programs where these players were coming from.

To further the mystery—-it was curious to see that Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim decided to hire another old school alpha type in Steve Wilks—-the one glaring difference being that Wilks is about as sober as a brain surgeon.

While there has been some uncertainty as to whose choice it was to bring Mike McCoy in as OC—-there are good reasons to believe that local sports radio host John Gambadoro, who said he had been hearing from an inside source with the Cardinals’ organization, had an accurate scoop when he claimed that Arians’ was strongly pushing Bidwill and Keim to promote James Bettcher—-and that Bettcher had Mike McCoy lined up to be his OC.

We know that Mike McCoy was high on Keim’s short list of head coaching candidates back in 2013. Perhaps it was Keim who suggested McCoy to Bettcher. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that when it became clear that Michael Bidwill did not want to promote Bettcher and when Bidwill was taking a strong liking to Steve Wilks, the thought was to pair Wilks with McCoy.

Now—-again—-Mike McCoy was a very curious choice. While McCoy isn't an f-bombing in- your-face type of of coach, his offensive philosophy is very conservative—-a stark opposite of Arians’.

Weird too that McCoy did not do Vance Joseph, the Broncos’ defensive minded rookie head coach, many favors last year when players complained that McCoy’s playbook was too fat and difficult to master.

Essentially Bidwill and Keim were trading in “no risk it, no biscuit” for “conserve it and undeserve it.”

Steve Wilks vowed that he and his coaches would coach up the players with “different personalities” who were struggling under Arians’ watch.

However, Wilks was put in an untenable situation by having to do this day by day without his GM on the premises, thanks to Steve Keim’s DUI suspension.

It now appears that Wilks is experiencing the same type of frustration that Arians was battling the past couple of years. Too many players are underachieving by not doing what they have been coached to do.

Part of the continued underachieving may be attributed to the BA hangover—-dogs who have been spanked by their first master are highly apt to cower or growl at their second masters. It takes time for old habits and trepidations to change.

Interesting that rookie QB Josh Rosen just this week said that Bruce Arians’ “ghostly presence” is still swirling around the building. There was some reverence in Rosen’s allusion, no question. But there also is a degree of ambiguity in the form of a haunting of sorts.

And now with Mike McCoy collecting his paychecks at home in SoCal, the irony is that the brightest new coaching hope in the organization is one of BA’s leftovers, Byron Leftwich, the team’s new OC. Leftwich, who learned the ropes while sitting “shoulder to shoulder” with Bruce Arians and “nodding off together” while studying film in the late hours, brings a familiar “no risk it, no biscuit” style and yet an entirely new and exuberant presence to the locker room and podium.

Leftwich’s first message to the players and the media? R-E-L-A-X!

Unlike Steve Wilks, who is wound up like a coil in a tennis ball cylinder—-Byron Leftwich is totally chill, totally at ease, charming, modest, calm and funny. His press conference yesterday brought refreshing smiles and laughs and merriment.

Leftwich appears to be fully understanding of his rookie QB—-a young player whom he says is sharp as a tack and “21 going on 32.” Still, Leftwich said, “I want to teach Josh from the ground up.”

It appears that while BA wasn't able to leave the Cardinals with a QBOF—-in Leftwich, BA may have left the Cardinals with its greatest new hope...

And a new age style...all his own.