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Gutsy Cardinals Gamble on Greatness

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NFL: NFL Draft Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Author and highly regarded business management consultant, Jim Collins, believes that “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”

From time to time, the Arizona Cardinals have dared to be good...and they have had a couple of good back to back playoff years and once came within two toe lengths of winning their only Super Bowl...but then like Sisyphus, just when it appears the Cardinals are going to push the boulder over the hump, Sisyphus loses his grasp and the boulder drops precipitously right back to the bottom of the hill.

After incurring their worst season in Arizona---the Cardinals are fighting back by resetting their standards and by having the guts to go for greatness.

Hiring Kliff Kingsbury was the first gutsy move. No, Kingsbury, didn’t have a winning record at Texas Tech. But those who know and appreciate offensive excellence know that there is greatness in how Kliff Kingsbury designs, coaches and orchestrates his fast-tempo attack-style of offense.

Hiring Kliff Kingsbury was the first sign this year that the Cardinals are now gambling on greatness.

In applying Kingsbury’s virtue to Jim Collins’ quote, Kliff Kingsbury makes a conscious choice to be great, but what makes his offenses great is his day-to-day, practice-to-practice discipline.

Hiring defensive coordinator Vance Joseph was a gamble on greatness. Joseph is one of the most highly regarded young defensive coaches in the NFL. Yes, he was fired after two years of being the Broncos’ head coach. At the time it felt like John Elway was making a Mike Tomlin kind of hire in tabbing the young Joseph as head coach. But, Joseph didn’t inherit a high powered offense led by a future Hall of Fame QB in Ben Roethlisberger.

These days the Cardinals are gambling that Kingsbury’s acumen on offense, plus Joseph’s acumen on defense will make the Arizona Cardinals great, not just good, but great for years to come.

Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom for people and organizations to learn the right kind of humbleness and self awareness to be able to achieve new levels of success. Clearly, Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim have been willing to concede that in order to be great, these days they have had to try to look beyond mediocre or good.

Bidwill and Keim are manifesting a courageous willingness to press the reset button at the expense of potentially looking all the more foolish.

Last year, they hired Steve Wilks with the intention that he and his staff could elicit and educe the kind of success from the team’s various “different personalities” that Bruce Arians and his staff could not.

What Bidwill and Keim have learned from this is two very important things: (1) players with “different personalities” may likely continue to be difficult for any coach to develop; (2) the front office had better start acquiring free agents and draft picks who fit the strengths of the offensive and defensive schemes and coaching philosophies.

For those who are extremely upset about Bidwill’s and Keim’s decision to draft QB Kyler Murray, yes, it does make the Cardinals look foolish to spend all of the draft capital and money on two 1st round QBs back to back.

Your frustration right now is completely understandable.

However, greatness in professional sports today begins and ends with the players who touch the ball the most. And today, more than ever, teams are coveting speed and creativity. In baseball, the best pitchers can bring the heat, but also command the strike zone with curve balls and sliders. In basketball, the best point guards are the ones who can beat their man off the dribble and then be able to score or drop a dime to an open teammate. These days, in the NFL, coaches are turning to speedy, elusive and imaginative QBs who can drop dimes from the pocket and yet who can turn broken plays into Sports Center highlights.

When the Cardinals drafted QB Kyler Murray last night, they courageouly gambled on greatness.

Kyler Murray is a Houdini in cleats, who boasts the arm of a pitching ace and the creativity of an All-Star point guard.

Which is exactly what the Cardinals drafted in Kyler Murray. He is now their point guard. And one could venture to say that he is the most gifted point guard in the Arizona since Steve Nash.

Speaking of point guards, two days ago, Trae Young, another Oklahoma Sooner who blazed like a meteor up the draft charts in one year the way Kyler Murray did, said that “If the Cardinals want to win and they want to win Super Bowls, then they should draft Kyler Murray.”

In last year’s NBA Draft, many scouts questioned Trae Young’s lack of size and thin frame and felt he would get pushed around and hammered---and then after Hawks drafted Young he was already labeled a bust in the Las Vegas Summer League when he was out of sync and struggling to make shots.

But, Trae Young, just like Kyler Murray, needs the structure and discipline of a system and a coach who believes in him.

Throughout the NBA season, Young steadily grew into a dynamic force at the point. His game is all about speed and creativity. He became the 4th rookie in NBA history to record more than 8 triple doubles and he finished the year 34th in scoring at 19.1 ppg and 4th in the league in assists at 8.1.

But what Young, who happens to be a Lubbock native and friend of Kyler Murray’s, understands is the dynamic match of Murray’s skills to Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. ”I took a couple visits there (Texas Tech), so I know Kliff,” Trae Young said. “I know how good a coach he is. He’s a great coach, and a better person. I know he loves his quarterbacks. He does well in teaching quarterbacks.”

Most auspiciously, the match of Murray with Kingsbury is what Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim embrace.

Ever so fittingly, Kyler Murray had greatness in mind when he picked out his pink suit. Murray’s mom said that she usually help Kyler pick out his clothes, but this time Kyler had his own idea, inspired by his favorite move, The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DeCaprio.

Well, today perhaps we could call Murray The Great Kylersby---or seeing as the draft was in Nashville---perhaps we could call Murray The Great Katsby.

Like Gatsby, Kyler’s ascension into affluence has been swift and meteoric. Like Gatsby, Kyler’s primary dream has been in attaining his most cherished love. That’s what Kyler was trying to say to the NFL universe last night. His most passionate dream has always been to be the top pick in the NFL Draft and to play in the NFL.

And, best of all, Kyler has already begun re-writing the ending of Gatsby, because unlike Gatsby who waited anxiously in his swimming pool for Daisy’s call (a call that never came), last night Kyler in the “green” room got the phone call that Gatsby always wanted.

Will The Great Katsby “turn out all right in the end?” Well, for all the patience Katsby has shown, day after day and night after night, staring across the bay at his version of the blinking green light, it will depend on just how foxy and fast Katsby can elude what “preys on him” and what “foul dust” that might “float in the wake of his dreams.”

All the naysayers---like the Cardinals’ fan who shouted up to the stage during Murray’s most cherished moment, “We didn’t want you, we wanted Bosa.” Well, guys like Gatsby in pink suits, “always look so cool.” Murray handled this heckling with a wry smile as he vowed to change that fan’s mind.

You see, old sport, like Jay Gatsby, Kyler Murray is fueled by an “extraordinary gift for hope and a romantic readiness” to go and set NFL scoreboards on fire and summon screaming fans to their feet. Thus today, the Heisman Trophy winner and the coach who always dreamed of him as his QB are united in hot, concerted pursuit of the Holy Grail of professional football---and the brilliant showers of confetti, fireworks and champagne that accompany the hoisting of it.