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Coaching Different Personalities (Part 2)

NFL: Super Bowl LVII -Super Bowl LVII Handoff Ceremony Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After 161 votes, the results are:

  • Steve Keim —- 57%
  • Steve Wilks —- 32%
  • Arians’ Ghost —-8%
  • Michael Bidwill —- 3%

I was very curious to know whether the general perception of Steve Wilks’ firing has changed over the course of the last three years. I don’t think there is any question that if this poll was given the day of Wilks’ firing, that Wilks would have won it by a landslide.

You see —- by making Steve Wilks the scapegoat —- this is precisely what Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim wanted Cardinals’ fans to think.

In my opinion, the person that deserves the lion’s share of the blame for Steve Wilks’ swift demise in Arizona is Michael Bidwill. Certainly, Steve Keim also deserves his fair share of the blame for all of the reasons we have been discussing, but the fact that Steve Keim was able to keep his job as GM is likely the result of the fact that he was not on board with Wilks hiring in the first place. Steve Keim wanted BA’s top choice, James Bettcher.

However, here is where the Ghost of Bruce Arians came into play in a big-time way.

First off, whether you believe that Michael Bidwill coaxed BA into retiring, or not, BA’s departure was dramatic and, I believe, for Michael Bidwill, it was traumatic. It is never easy to say goodbye to a team’s winningest coach. But, in Bruce Arians’ case, the concerns about his health were imminent and actually, downright scary. In addition, BA had become more and more polarizing among the players —- and by the end of his fifth season, even some of the star players like Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson had lost their competitive edge. Both of BA’s trusted QBs, Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton were beat up. The one QB whom BA drafted, Logan Thomas, had been cut at the end of his second training camp.

A rebuild for the Cardinals was imperative. The roster was depleted. The Cardinals now headed into the 2018 season knowing that after missing out on opportunities to trade up for Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson, drafting their QBOF was an absolute must.

One of the major problems with regard to Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim is that they will never concede that the team is in a rebuilding mode. They always want the fans to believe that they are just “retooling” and that they still expect the team to win. This was likely their way of trying to protect the home sellout streak at State Farm Stadium (U of P).

When the Cardinals were now searching for BA’s successor, I and a number of Cardinals’ fans at ROTB and elsewhere, in anticipation of the Cardinals finally drafting a QBOF, expected Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim to hire an offensive-minded, QB guru as the next head coach —- with the thought of the new coach having a strong say in which young QB he wanted to rebuild around. Matching the coach with the QB is often of paramount importance.

It’s odd because there were rumors that Michael Bidwill was interested in Sean McVay back in 2017 while Bruce Arians’ health had become a serious issue. Thus, one would think that Michael Bidwill would try to find a promising offensive minded head coach like McVay.

Instead, after BA retired, after the top offensive candidates had shunned any interest from the Cardinals, both Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim focused in on defensive minded head coaches. Steve Keim supported BA’s recommendation for the team to promote James Bettcher to head coach —- but, it seemed like Michael Bidwill was dead-set on distancing himself from BA and his f-bombing coaching style, as much as he could.

When you think about it, Michael Bidwill was impressed by the notion that Steve Wilks was in so many ways, the exact opposite of BA. He is defensive minded coach who is rather soft spoken, is sober as a brain surgeon and is a paragon of physical fitness. Plus, Wilks appeared very eager to accept Michael Bidwill’s primary objective —- to find a head coach who could motivate and develop players with “different personalities” in ways that BA and his staff did not.

Think of it this way —- after a traumatic breakup with Bruce Arians, Michael Bidwill was heavily on the rebound.

It didn’t matter to Bidwill that he and Steve Keim were not on the same page. Bidwill must have thought that Steve Keim would warm up to Steve Wilks —- but, man, if you saw Steve Wilks’ press conference upon his hiring as head coach, Michael Bidwill looked enthusiastic and dialed in while Steve Keim looked like the disinterested kid in class who keeps taking sneak-peeks down at his cellphone.

The most awkward moment during that press conference was after Steve Wilks had spent a few minutes explaining how focused he and his staff will be on coaching players with different personalities, he turned to Bidwill and Keim to say, “you made the right choice,” which felt as if Steve Wilks was keenly sensing that not everyone in that room was on board with his hiring.

The Wilks press conference made one thing perfectly clear —- the days of colorful pressers full of pomp, drama, vulgarity and circumstance were now a thing of the past. As was the stunning mantra of “Win or lose, we booze.”

In this sense, it felt strangely symbolic that Steve Keim was busted for a DUI on July 4th. Perhaps no one was missing Bruce Arians more than Steve Keim.

So here are, in my opinion, some of the mistakes that Michael Bidwill made:

  • Not being on the same page as his GM. That is rarely a good scenario for the front office of an NFL football franchise, especially when it comes to hiring a head coach.
  • Not bringing in an offensive minded head coach who would have a significant say in which QBOF the Cardinals would draft.
  • Signing QB Sam Bradford to a $20M deal, for many obvious reasons.
  • Hiring OC Mike McCoy who had been fired at mid-season as the Broncos’ OC.
  • Hiring McCoy to a 2 year deal, which coincided with Braford’s contract, making it clear that McCoy was hired to coach Bradford and therefore, not as much for the QBOF.
  • Trading up out of desperation for QB Josh Rosen, especially when QB Lamar Jackson (whom so many of us wanted) could have been selected at the Cardinals’ spot.
  • Caving in on RB David Johnson’s contract demands after 15 games on the IR, by making him the highest paid RB in the NFL at $13.3M a year, with one year remaining on Johnson’s rookie contract.
  • Retaining some coaches from BA’s staff who were far more apt to stay allied to BA than to suddenly shift their allegiance to Steve Wilks.
  • A savvy owner should know that to give a new head coach the best possible chance you have to let the coach hire his own staff. Ron Rivera pointed out recently that Steve Wilks was not allowed to hire his own staff.
  • Under-estimating how difficult it was going to be for Steve Wilks to manage training camp without Steve Keim, particularly when Keim, for the first time, had the final say in roster decisions.
  • Ultimately, making Wilks’ tenure as head coach tied to an ability to coach and motivate players with different personalities and not giving him ample and sufficient time to do so what a setup for failure.
  • Let’s remember how Michael Bidwill gave his full endorsement for taking Robert Nkemdiche in the 1st round of the 2016 draft, saying “As a lawyer, I have always prided myself in being a good judge of character.” Well, no coach has gotten more out of Nkemdiche than Wilks did. Who knows what might have happened if Diche had been embraced by BA and his coaches from the beginning rather than ridiculed and ostracized.
  • Man, the Cardinals’ coaches have a way of making Bidwill’s and Keim’s draft decisions look foolish, don’t they? Not just BA. Look no farther than with Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins.
  • After playing for Bruce Arians it was going to take the returning players time to adjust to a new approach and coaching style. The new style may have felt so foreign to the players at that point, that it may have made it more difficult for the players to “buy in,” as they say. Same with the coaches who were retained from BA’s staff.
  • Put it this way, had Bidwill not made the focus of Wilks’ hire a mission to motivate players with different personalities, would Wilks have ever taken the risk of providing the players with brick and hurdle metaphors?

But, worst and most egregious of all, was how Michael Bidwill handled the firing of Steve Wilks.

It was one thing to fire a head coach after one calamitous season, but to make him the scapegoat for that calamity was reprehensible and unconscionable.

All Michael Bidwill had to do was say that he made a mistake in not hiring an offensive minded head coach in a year where they were drafting what they hoped to be their franchise QB. He could back that up by saying it didn’t help that they had to fire Mike McCoy by mid-season. He could have said that now having what was the worst offense in the NFL, it behooves the organization to make a change.

Bidwill could have thanked Steve Wilks for his hard work. He could have praised Wilks for some of the good things he accomplished. He could have explained that Steve Wilks was put in a very difficult position under highly tenuous circumstances.

Instead, Bidwill basically sabotaged any chances that Steve Wilks might have to ever become an NFL head coach again some day. He threw Wilks to the wolves. It was not only disgraceful, it was completely unnecessary.

Just as the Dolphins bailed out the Cardinals by agreeing to send the Cardinals as late 2nd day pick for Josh Rosen, the Browns softened the blow of the Wilks’ firing by hiring him as their DC. Alas, Steve Wilks, once again found himself in the path of the tornado when Freddie Kitchens was fired after his one season as head coach. What are the odds of that happening to a coach two years in a row? It’s an uncanny misfortune.

So, what Michael Bidwill was desperate for the Cardinals’ fans to believe was that Steve Wilks was the main reason why the Cardinals went 3-13. He even had the gall to sound smug and magnanimous about Wilks’ firing as if he was doing everyone a favor.

And so many Cardinals’ fans took the bait.

The truth is, Steve Wilks was fired primarily because of Michael Bidwill’s and Steve Keim’s decision-making failures and their on-going incapacity to get on the same page.

And people wonder why the top coaching candidates want nothing to do with the Cardinals?

It’s egregious too that Bidwill and Keim have a recurring tendency to de-value their coaches and players —- which is why so many of the Cardinals former captains and star players leave the organization feeling disgusted and ready to kick ass with a new team.

It keeps happening that Bidwill and Keim’s junk winds up being another team’s treasure, like this most recent, conspicuous example:

Further case in point —- hopefully the Cardinals will start to get the most out of Isaiah Simmons’ unique talents, but if they were to try to trade him now, how much have the Cardinals already diminished his value?

In Part 3, I will explain why I fear that Bidwill and Keim are now setting Kliff Kingsbury up to fail.

There were many great arguments made yesterday on ROTB about who/what was most to blame for Steve Wilks’ firing. I was hoping someone would make a detailed argument about Michael Bidwill.

Thus, I would like to send the Cardinals’ ice freezer tumbler to the ROTB member who can best explain the reasons why Bidwill and Keim could be setting up Kliff Kingsbury up as the next scapegoat. I will start Part 3 by quoting the winning argument.