The 2017 Arizona Cardinals were at a crossroads that would define their destiny.
Likewise, so were the 2017 Texas Tech Red Raiders, ending another losing season with their captain and starting quarterback having left for the NFL and Kansas City and their head coach winding up on the hot seat.
The moves that were made in the midst of these two franchises ended up having a profound effect on not only their teams, but others for years to come.
Let’s start with Texas Tech, who entered what would be Kingsbury’s final season with the team, only to release him after a 6-7 season.
During his time with Texas Tech while they weren’t good...they were competitive. Since they fired Kingsbury, Tech went from a 35-40 record to...8-22. Losing 2 out of every 3 games rather than being close to a .500 team yearly and recruiting and developing multiple top QB’s.
Kingsbury went on to be named the OC of USC for a few months only to turn down an opportunity with the Jets to take on the Cardinals job.
While Texas Tech came out a sore loser, so did Kingsbury’s reputation coming in due to a few factors:
- Fact he struggled to win in college and recruit
- Fact he recruited Patrick Mahomes but never had a winning season
- His drafting of Kyler Murray essentially put a heavy weight on himself as a playcaller in taking blame for problems with Arizona’s offense (you can’t swap out playcallers if your head coach IS the playcaller, for example)
But that was nothing compared to the missed opportunities for the Arizona Cardinals. Here’s a stroll down memory lane as to some of the missed chances Arizona had under Steve Keim, starting around 2016...Keim:
- Drafted NT Robert Nkemdiche over Chiefs future star DT Chris Jones
- Stayed put at 13 without trading up in what was a potential final year for Carson Palmer for KC superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes
- Saw Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians retire and was stuck without a coach or QB
- Saw the Wilks/Rosen experiment become a failure after choosing to hire him over Arians’ disciple James Bettcher and hired OC Mike McCoy over QB coach Byron Leftwich only to promote Leftwich anyway after 7 games to the position
- Watched as Bruce Arians came out of retirement....but for the Buccaneers, bringing Bowles, Goodwin, Leftwich and even other players like Bucannon, Larson, Shipley, and even Drew Stanton with him.
- Let Tyrann Mathieu walk after a paycut to hit the free agent market, not even trading him or getting something in return, only for him to put up two quality seasons with the Texans and become the leader of the Chiefs’ defense in 2019
- Saw Alex Okafor, who the team let walk after 2016, go on a two year stint with the Chiefs, winning a title last year.
We can even mention how Keim and the Cardinals failed to bring in Andy Reid in 2013 as head coach, having to fall back on eventually hiring....Bucs HC Bruce Arians.
The biggest thing ultimately is this: imagine an alternate reality.
Where you watch the Arizona Cardinals with Bruce Arians having a young Patrick Mahomes on his roster throwing to Larry Fitzgerald and Tyrann Mathieu/Budda Baker making plays alongside Chandler Jones, Alex Okafor in a Todd Bowles’ aggressive defense.
People would be talking about a dynasty like no other, eh? The team would be set for the future long-term, with Bowles and Leftwich being potential future coaches and enough talent at the coaching and skill positions to potentially bring the Cardinals to a championship game. The Cards would be LAUDED nationally.
Instead? What does Arizona get stuck with?
A QB that they let go winds up on the Chiefs and people point back at the guy who coached him in Arizona and question if he’s the guy moving forward in developing Kyler Murray or if he was holding Mahomes back, as it were...and is doing the same with Kyler.
And instead they have to watch as it’s the Chiefs who made an aggressive, not passive, move to add a guy who’s looked like the LeBron James of the National Football League slip through their fingers in a year they needed to get a QB.
To make matters worse? Bruce Arians, the greatest coach in their franchises’ history, came out of retirement...but not for Keim.
Let me repeat that.
Arians came out of retirement...but not to coach the Cardinals.
Whether he felt Arizona eschewed him or he turned his back on a franchise that crumbled when he left it’s notable that while Arians did no favors and left them up a creek without a paddle...they’ve still never had a winning season since he left.
He’s turned around Tampa into a winner and was able to recruit the Michael Jordan of the NFL in Tom Brady and with the same defensive-heavy approach he used with Bowles in Arizona got the team further than the Cardinals could go.
There should be nothing for the Cardinals GM and Owner when they watch the television on sunday but the pain of what could have been. Maybe even Kliff Kingsbury himself watching Mahomes might wonder if there was something wrong he did himself to leave Tech in a disgraced fashion watching his own player go on to great heights he couldn’t get him to achieve in college.
And in that aspect, the Cardinals, and Cardinals fans...are left with the subtle hope of a dream that has not yet been delivered.
Alongside the regret of past mistakes and failures of what could have been...reminiscing of the failed 2008 Super Bowl and Santonio Holmes and a failed Hail Mary attempt.
Hopefully, they’ll be able to enjoy the game someday as more than another “if only”.