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Steve Believes (Lean on Me)

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Arizona Cardinals Introduce Kliff Kingsbury - Press Conference Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

When Cardinals’ owner and president Michael Bidwill announced the firing of Steve Wilks as head coach, Bidwill offered his praise for Steve Keim’s track record and his faith that Keim will find a way to make the Cardinals contenders again.

At the same press conference, when asked about what it is going to take to turn the suddenly woeful Cardinals around, this is what he said:

Virtually one week later Steve Keim, with Michael Bidwill’s, Ernie Accorsi’s and Adrian Wilson’s blessings, shocked the NFL universe by handing the head coaching keys to former Texas Tech head coach, Kliff Kingsbury.

Keim doesn’t care that Kingsbury had a losing record at Texas Tech. All Keim cares about with regard to Kingsbury is that he and his innovative, high flying offense can propel QB Josh Rosen and the Cardinals to NFL prominence.

When Kingsbury was introduced, he spoke glowingly about the rapport he built over the years with Keim when Keim visited Lubbock on scouting trips. Kingsbury reiterated a few times how well respected Keim is in the NFL...and then...Kingsbury dropped the clincher—-he admitted he knows very little about coaches and players in the NFL, thus when it comes to filling out the staff and the roster, Kingsbury intends “the lean on” Keim to make those decisions.

Translation?

Keim is going all in on Kingsbury to run the offense and all in on himself to take care of everything else.

It might be crazy—-but it might be genius.

First of all, by trusting in himself to fill out the staff and like Bill Parcells said about “buying the groceries“—-this frees Kingsbury up to focus most of his time on Rosen and coordinating the offense.

It’s not that Kingsbury has no say or influence—-but clearly, Kingsbury trusts Keim and doesn’t want to get in his way. After all, Keim is the NFL guy and Kingsbury is just starting to learn the ropes.

Kingsbury should and will work with Keim in the general sense to inform him of the protocol-typical skill players and linemen that make his Air Raid offense click.

At first it was rumored that Kingsbury wanted Texas St.’s head coach Jake Spavital as his OC.

But, a day later, Kingsbury was saying that it might be better to get an OC with NFL experience so that he can mesh his Air Raid offense with some of the more popular NFL schemes.

This sounds like it was Steve Keim’s idea. It seemed smart in some senses, but wouldn’t it be better and more time saving for Kingsbury to have an OC, like Spavital, who already runs a version of the Air Raid offense?

With experienced NFL offensive coaches coming in from different teams, Kingsbury is going to have tp spend a good deal of his time teaching his offense so that he and the coaches can speak the same language and be on the same page. That takes a lot of time, especially when the offense is a specialized and nuanced as Kingsbury’s.

For a few hours yesterday it sounded like Keim had signed former USC and Washington HC, Alabama and Atlanta Falcons’ OC, Steve Sarkisian to the position. Today one of the headlines on ESPN is “Sarkisian turns down Cardinals’ offer to return to Alabama.”

While on the surface it may make the Cardinals look a little foolish—-let’s be real. In Arizona, Kingsbury will be calling the plays. The OC will not. Sarkisian will be going back to calling the plays for Alabama where he can vie for a 2019 national championship while coaching a 5 star player at QB in Tua Tagovailoa.

Thus, while Keim is now considering other options at OC, he has made two key appointments in keeping Jeff Rodgers as the STC (Kingsbury described Rodgers as having shown “excellence wherever he’s been”) and signing former Broncos’ HC Vance Joseph as the team’s DC.

When Bidwill and Keim announced the Wilks firing, Keim made it clear that the team is switching back to a 34 base defense. In Denver the Broncos’ base defense under Joseph was the 34. Thus, check off that box. And credit Keim for landing a DC with head coaching experience, like the Rams did for Sean McVay when they hired Wade Phillips. Now—-Joseph is not nearly as experienced as Phillips, but Joseph brings immediate credibility and excitement to the position.

The most curious hire thus far has been the signing of former Cardinals’ DC, Billy Davis, as LBC. As many fans have suggested, this may be a sign that Keim is tipping off the selection of the Cardinals’ 1st round pick, because Davis coached DE/OLB Nick Bosa at Ohio St.—-or it could be that Keim has always liked Davis and welcomed him to return.

In terms of the 2019 NFL Draft, tipping their hand doesn’t really matter because in essence, in having the #1 pick in the 1st round, the Cardinals are already on the clock, so to speak.

But, the inside linebackers have been a real weakness for the Cardinals the past few years. Hopefully, Billy Davis is the right coach for the job, although there was a general sense of frustration amongst Buckeye fans this past season about the sub standard play of their linebackers under Davis. FWIW.

In conclusion, Steve Keim has bucked the Cardinals uber-deliberate means of the past for hiring a head coach by being the 2nd team of 8 to appoint their new head coach. This has given Keim a head start on filling out the staff, plus, in encouraging Kliff Kingsbury to focus on what he does best, it has given Keim the autonomy to make the key off-season moves.

An unnamed staff employee who was drifting by Kingsbury’s new office recently reported that he saw the new coach watching clips of Josh Rosen to the music of Bill Withers—-

In many ways, Keim is taking the ultimate risk an NFL GM can make in hiring a head coach without any NFL coaching experience. But, it also is what some GMs would call a dream come true, because the tensions between GMs and HCs in terms of staffing and personnel can often be tenuous, and thus Keim is doing what he said in the clip above—-he is pretty much going all in on himself.