clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Free Birds

Steve Wilks Yearns to Open Up the Cage and Let His Cardinals Fly.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals-Press Conference Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Quite recently, new Nebraska head coach Scott Frost revealed his and his staff’s novel approach to coaching, which Frost believes was one of the main reasons why his team at Central Florida went 13-0 this past season.

Frost said that he and his staff do not f-bomb kids and publicly or privately shame them. The philosophy here is that shaming and berating players prevents them from playing free and more aggressive, because they worry less about making mistakes.

“When a player of our makes a mistake, rather than curse at him, we simply try to teach them the correct approach,” he said. “We want our players to feel free to play great football.”

As Cardinals’ fans, we know that Bruce Arians’ and the majority of his assistant coaches’ style was straight out of the Bear Bryant school of coaching: “coach ‘em up hard now, and hug ‘em later.” That philosophy, as written, appears strikingly euphemistic. With Arians the “coach ‘em up hard” part included public ridiculing and berating of some of his players to the pojnt where he stigmatized a first round draft pick as “Knee Deep” and a two-time 1st team All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl special teams player as a “failure in progress” at cornerback.

When I ran this philosophy by a good friend of mine who is a psychologist, she said, “what people will always remember more is the slap, not the hug.” She continued, “it’s like the student who gets all A’s but one C-…that student will always think more about the C- than the A’s…it’s human nature.”

How refreshing and exciting it is to know that Steve Wilks and his new staff in Arizona have decided from day one to take a more individualized approach. Right from the get-go at his opening press conference, Wilks asserted, that he was looking for assistant coaches who are teachers and highly effective communicators. “It’s not about yelling and screaming,” Wilks said. “I want coaches who can relate to players with all kinds of different personalities.”

Wilks had made it very clear that player development is one of the staff’s highest priorities. “You make your wealth in this league by developing players.”

In recent years, player development under Arians and his staff was in the majority of cases painfully slow. Arians was not a fan of playing rookies---he relegated the vast majority of them to a second practice field---and gave the veterans the upper hand in securing starting jobs, often without any direct competition.

It’s significant to note that Arians’ first two draft classes are now entirely gone, save for LB Deone Bucannon who is still playing on his 1st round rookie contract at a rather cap unfriendly $8.7M 2018 salary.

Other draft picks who have yet to fulfill their initial promise since coming into the league are 2015 draftees T D.J. Humphries (1st), DT Rodney Gunter (4th), WR J.J. Nelson (5th); 2016 draftees DT Robert Nkemdiche (1st), CB Brandon Williams (3rd), C Evan Boehm (4th), S Harlan Miller (6th); and 2017 draftees LB Haason Reddick (1st), WR Chad Williams (3rd), T Will Holden (5th), RB T.J. Logan (5th) and S Rudy Ford (6th).

In losing over 20 free agents the past two years, it would be a boon for the Cardinals if Wilks and his staff could get solid production from these former draft picks.

In five years, only one of Steve Keim’s draft picks has been signed to a second contract, but that was Tyrann Mathieu (3rd round 2013) who was recently released after collecting $31M from the Cardinals the past two lackluster seasons.

Steve Wilks has vowed that his Cardinals are going to play with “great effort” and with a superior “physicality.” Those are the kind of players Wilks covets---high effort dynamos who bring imposing physical presence and the day to day will to prevail.

Furthermore, Wilks has spoken at length about freeing up the players’ minds so they can play fast and instinctively. Wilks maintains that practice is for ironing out the details and fundamentals so that come game day, the players can tee it up, pin their ears back, and play with certainty and confidence. “When you come to watch us play,” ‘Wilks avows, “it’s going to start up front with the offensive and defensive lines, but most importantly it is going to be across the board a physical football team that plays with extreme effort.”

Wilks wants to develop a spirited and resilient charge of free birds. He wants to teach these birds, unlock the cage and watch them fly. He wants each and every individual one of them to be able to sing (a la Lynyrd Skynyrd):

“Cause I’m as free as a bird now…and this bird you cannot change…oh, oh, oh, oh oh…and this bird you cannot change.”