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Arizona Cardinals .415 Football: The Patterns

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Over the course of the Cardinals’ 33 years in the desert, they have won two NFC West titles and have made the playoffs in 5 years, compiling a 215 -311-2 (.415) regular season record and a 6-5 playoff record which includes one NFC Championship and the team’s first ever Super Bowl appearance.

In 33 years in the desert, the Cardinals have only had 6 winning seasons and 5 playoff berths.

Amazingly. for one of the original professional football franchise that started back in 1920, in the entire 101 years of the franchise the Cardinals have played in only 17 playoff games, going 8-9.

But, today let’s focus in on the 33 years of Arizona Cardinals football.

Arizona Cardinals’ GMs (winning seasons)

1988-1993 Larry Wilson (0)

1994-1995 Buddy Ryan (0)

1996-2002 Bob Ferguson (1)

2003-2012 Rod Graves (2)

2013-present Steve Keim (3)

Notes:

  • As Michael Bidwill began to take more control of the team’s leadership, the Cardinals have had two nice runs in 2008-2009 with Ken Whisenhunt/Kurt Warner and in 2013-2015 with Bruce Arians/Carson Palmer.
  • None of the Arizona Cardinals’ GMs came into the job with prior experience as a GM.

Arizona Cardinals Head Coaches (winning seasons/playoff records)

1988-1989 Gene Stallings (0)

1989-1989 Hank Kuhlmann (0)

1990-1993 Joe Bugel (0)

1994-1995 Buddy Ryan (0)

1996-2000 Vince Tobin (1, 1-1, Wild Card win over the Cowboys in 1998)

2000-2003 Dave McGinnis (0)

2004-2006 Dennis Green (0)

2007-2012 Ken Whisenhunt (2, 4-2, NFC West title, NFC Championship, Super Bowl berth in 2008)

20013-2017 Bruce Arians (3, 1-2, NFC West title, NFC Championship game appearance in 2015)

2018 Steve Wilks (0)

2019-present Kliff Kingsbury (0)

Notes:

  • Of the 11 coaches, only Buddy Ryan and Dennis Green came to the job with previous full-time NFL head coaching experience. Ryan was 43-35-1 and 0-3 in the playoffs with the Eagles, but was 12-20 with the Cardinals. Green was 97-62 and 4-8 in the playoffs with the Vikings, but was 16-32 with the Cardinals.
  • Over the past ten years, only 2 head coaches without prior NFL head coaching experience have won the Super Bowl: John Harbaugh (2014) and Doug Pederson (2017).
  • John Harbaugh had the advantage of coaching under a GM in Ozzie Newsome who had previously won the Super Bowl as an executive assistant in 2001 before being named the Ravens’ GM in 2002.
  • Doug Pederson had the advantage on being hired in 2016 by a newly reinstated GM Howie Roseman who had relinquished the GM duties for a couple of years to head coach Chip Kelly.
  • In the 101 year history of the Cardinals, Ken Whisenhunt has half of the franchise’s all-time playoff victories with 4.

Pattern:

The odds would suggest that first time NFL head coaches under first time NFL GMs will have a very difficult time competing for and winning Super Bowls.

Drafting Well and Profiting on Key Veteran Leadership

The Arizona Cardinals have had difficulties developing their draft picks and have had less than favorable results getting key, sustained veteran leadership.

One of the things that first time NFL head coaches tend to rely on very heavily is putting their trust in the veterans on the team. As a result, first time NFL head coaches tend to be very cautious about playing younger, less experienced players. As another result, an inordinate number of draft picks can become either pigeonholed as strictly special teams players or quickly regarded as roster bubble dwellers, as they virtually have little opportunities to get the valuable first team reps that could eventually lead to them contributing on their side of the ball on game days.

What happens then is that the GM starts to draft over and over at the same positions, hoping to get the next pick right. The cycle of over-drafting is one way of thwarting the progress and potential short and long-term success of the football team.

The Cardinals were able to ride Kurt Warner’s and Carson Palmer’s excellent leadership all the way to their first and only Super Bowl and their second ever NFC Championship game.

However, the Cardinals’ veteran leadership over the years has been marred by a long-standing league-wide perception that veteran free agents “come to Arizona to retire.” In Arizona, the players tend to rule the roost —- the stars on the team are often fawned over and lionized by the Arizona media, as well as by the Bidwilsl, the GM and their own coaches.

It typically takes a veteran GM and a veteran head coach to nip deleterious, team- demoralizing double red carpet standards for star players in the bud. In Arizona, some star players can cherry pick games and play hard whenever they want without any real fear of being taken out of the lineup or being called out by the coaches and fellow teammates..

This season following every loss, Kliff Kingsbury repeatedly put the onus of the blame squarely his shoulders while lauding the opponents for their excellent preparation and performance. Then, it became customary for Kingsbury to cite and offer high praise for the Cardinals’ veteran leadership in the locker room, avowing with full confidence that the veterans will help turn the tide back in the Cardinals’ favor.

In the end, that veteran leadership didn’t happen.

In a way, one can’t really blame Kliff Kingsbury for not knowing exactly what great veteran leadership looks like in the NFL, because he hasn’t been in an NFL locker room since his playing days back in the early 2000s.

But, good veteran leadership always starts with players exhibiting strong, diligent practice habits which then translate into high-effort, highly-disciplined performances on game days.

For anyone to believe that the Cardinals got good veteran leadership this past season is pure folly. The simplest way to put it is —- a team with good veteran leadership doesn’t manifest itself as the most undisciplined team in the NFL.

The most effective leadership on the team this season came from the younger captains, not the veteran ones. The young players on the roster are the team’s greatest hope. particularly if so many of them get the opportunity to play..

Why The Odds are Stacked Against Kliff Kingsbury:

It’s difficult enough having to play in the most competitive division in the NFL versus superior front offices, GMs, rosters, head coaches and coaching staffs, but how in the world was Kliff Kingsbury going to sell his brand of Air Raid offense to a host of veteran NFL assistant coaches to the point of them eagerly and willingly jumping on the same page?

Kingsbury has had no other choice but to do his best to incorporate all of this assistant coaches’ philosophies and play designs into a melting pot amalgamation —- thus far, with a mixed degree of success and failure. As a result, we have yet to see a genuine Air Raid type offense from Kingsbury —- in fact, his run-heavy (46%) offense has looked more like Mike McCoy’s —- and by comparison, Bruce Arians’ offense seems far more aggressive and diverse.

In terms of the team culture and Steve Keim’s penchant for rolling out the red carpet for veterans to the point of enabling double standards when it comes to practice participation and aspects of the job that veterans do not choose to embrace, for a first-time NFL coach from the college ranks, being a part of this country club culture that his own GM has fostered is a recipe for failure.

Keim has said on the radio a few times in recent years that “our star players have to play like stars” and yet little happens when they don’t and, even worse, there is a holding on to past perceived glories with regard to veteran players that has continually thwarted the progress of the organization.

The fact that Michael Bidwill is insisting that the Cardinals would like to have Pat Peterson back is alarming. Not only is Peterson no longer the top shelf cover CB he once was, it appears as if he has gotten a mulligan for his 2019 PED violation and coverup and for then coming back woefully out of shape to the point where he was running at half speed more often than not —- and then this year his response to getting picked on in coverage more than usual was to lead the NFL in PI and holding penalties. Meanwhile, Peterson keeps insisting that “I have given the Cardinals all I’ve got” and that “I can play another three to four years at a high level.”

The Cardinals, who have given Peterson all they’ve got, haven’t seen a high level of play from him in three years. Yet, it’s important for Michael Bidwill to assure Cardinals fans that the team want him back, as long as Pat P. understands the cap restrictions this year.

Kliff Kingsbury has stated a few times, “I love Patrick Peterson, he knows that.”

Coach, here is a guy who not only got busted for PEDs and a coverup, he elected to skip all of your OTAs during your rookie season and then had the temerity upon his return to claim that he still doesn’t quite understand Vance Jospeh’s defense. Peterson’s two seasons playing for you are the worst of his career and his first two seasons of not making the Pro Bowl. And he hasn’t come anywhere near close to making the Pro Bowl. So, why then do you “love” him?

Coach, is this your idea of great veteran leadership?

Furthermore, with regard to the team’s culture, it was disturbing this season to hear Larry Fitzgerald say that he was co-existing with some teammates he doesn’t particularly like. It was also disturbing and yet cathartic to hear Budda Baker say that “some guys aren't doing their jobs.” When one combines these statements with the team’s utter lack of discipline —- it does not reflect well on the young head coach —-or the GM, for that matter.

The way the Cardinals offense is trending, one has to wonder, if Steve Keim’s role as GM happens to be secure (as many of us fear), will Kliff Kingsbury be phased out after this season in favor of Keim promoting Sean Kugler to head coach and Cameron Turner to OC?

At this point it would be hard to imagine that Steve Keim has more faith in Kliff Kingsbury than he does in long-time NFL assistant Sean Kugler. Plus, Keim and Kugler share an affinity for the art of offensive line play.

But, replacing Kingsbury with Kugler would fit the Cardinals on-going pattern of the last 15 years to a tee, of the Bidwills and their first-time GMs hiring a first-time NFL head coach.

What Arizona Cardinals Fans Don't Know and Haven’t as Yet Seen:

An experienced NFL GM paired with an experienced NFL head coach.

Who knows, maybe Ozzie Newsome could be persuaded to come out of his executive counseling gig with the Ravens to make another run for a Super Bowl as a GM. He’s only 64.

How about Ozzie Newsome as Cardinals’ GM with Todd Bowles as head coach? Maybe Bowles’ second time around as a an NFL head coach could be like BA’s. Or Pete Carroll’s. Or Andy Reid’s. Or Tom Coughlin’s. Or Gary Kubiak’s. Or Tony Dungy’s.

If not Newsome (I know that he would be a long-shot, but well worth the invitation), how about Jeff Ireland (Saints’ current assistant GM), the former GM of the Dolphins from 2008-2013 who hired Todd Bowles in 2008 as an assistant head coach, secondary coach and interim head coach (2011)?

Commentary/Opinion:

Don’t get me wrong. I would love to see Kliff Kingsbury prevail and succeed as the Cardinals’ head coach. But, I can’t seem to help but feel that, as is the case with so many of Steve Keim’s draft picks who are miscast, back burnered or pigeonholed, that we will never see Kingsbury’s true talent as a play caller.

It feels like the Cardinals hired a Jackson Pollack to paint color-by-number landscapes.