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Coaching Different Personalities (Part 3)

NFL: NFC Wild Card Playoffs-Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After throwing Steve Wilks to the wolves, Michael Bidwill went hunting for an offensive minded head coach. After Mike McCarthy shunned Bidwill’s attempts to bring him in for an interview, the team owner called former Colts’, Browns’ and Giants’ GM Ernie Accorsi. whose sobriquet is “The QB Guy”.

In my opinion, at that point, Michael Bidwill was not feeling very thrilled about moving forward with Josh Rosen as the starting QB. If so, this would once again cast a shadow on Steve Keim’s ability to make 1st round picks that warrant the owner’s and the coaches’ trust.

Therefore, again, in my opinion, Michael Bidwill, not feeling especially confident in his GM’s ability to scout college QBs, wanted to know what Ernie Accorsi felt about the 2019 QB draft class and Accorsi affirmed what Bidwill was thinking —- that Kyler Murray, despite his diminutive stature, had all of the makings of a “transcendent” talent at the position.

Then, the next obvious question was who would be the best coach for Kyler Murray. I believe it’s quite possible that Adrian Wilson had mentioned a potential tandem of QB Kyler Murray with Kliff Kingsbury as head coach to the owner. When Bidwill ran the thought of the Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury tandem by Ernie Accorsi, Accorsi encouraged Bidwill to make the ballsy move.

I am also of the belief that the Cardinals were able to whoosh Kliff Kingsbury away from his head coaching interview with the New York Jets by sending a message through Kliff’s agent that “all possibilities with the #1 pick are open for discussion.”

I think that the Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury decisions were and still are the two of the very best decisions that Michael Bidwill has made since he appointed Steve Keim as GM.

The problem was, just as was the case when Bidwill hired Steve Wilks, it seems that once again Bidwill and Steve Keim were not on the same page. The discussion of this by the ROTB members in the comment section of Wednesday’s article was profound. Included was the bizarre “angry” handshake that Keim planted on Kyler after summoning him to the podium at Kyler’s introductory press conference.

The other conspicuous problem, once again, was Bidwill now putting the coaching staff hires in the hands of Steve Keim.

Now, one of the best decisions that Bidwill and Keim made was to keep STC Jeff Rodgers (pictured above with Kliff Kingsbury) and then promote him to assistant head coach with the role as game manager, so as to allow Kliff Kingsbury to focus on play calling.

What became immediately apparent in terms of Keim’s offensive assistant coach hires was that Keim was never of the belief that the K-Raid would work in the NFL. There were numerous reports from Cardinals’ insiders that indicated that Keim instructed Kingsbury to incorporate traditional NFL offensive play schemes into his offense.

When people still today refer to Kingsbury’s offense as an Air Raid, it’s not accurate. It’s pretty much just like any other NFL offense. The truth is, for the three years that Kingsbury has been in Arizona, we have never seen a true version of the Air Raid, thanks to Steve Keim and his favorite hire, OLC Sean Kugler.

Just as Kingsbury was trying to air the offense out, Kugler and the offensive line (with Keim’s encouragement) approached the head coach to suggest that Kingsbury switch the focus of the offense over to 12 personnel so that they could wage a stronger running game.

Once that switch was made, the running game did improve, but it quashed Kingsbury’s preferred style of play and slowed down the tempo that made his offenses so difficult to defend at Texas Tech.

What also quashed Kingsbury’s style of play was Steve Keim’s decision to trump the potential impact of the one assistant coaching hire that Kingsbury made, by signing veteran WR guru Jerry Sullivan to oversee the work of KK’s former assistant at TTU, WRC David Raih.

In my opinion, Jerry Sullivan’s meticulous and fastidious coaching style was the main reason why the three rookie WRs all struggled from the get-go. Rookies can’t play fast and free when they are thinking too much. One of the genius aspects of KK’s Air Raid is the freedom he loves to give his QBs and his WRs to play fast and free. That aspect was trumped away from Kingsbury right from the start of training camp when Sullivan put the clamps on Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler and KeeSean Johnson.

This is a classic example of how Steve Keim double-crosses the players and his coaches.

Kingsbury was put in an impossible situation because how was he going to argue with established NFL assistant coaches like Jerry Sullivan and Sean Kugler?

Thus, KK did the best thing he could by making the designs of the offense and the use of the personnel a group endeavor. To Kliff’s credit he did a fabulous job of collaborating with the ‘different personalities on the coaching staff while arriving at compromises that enabled the offense to be effective.

It’s worthy and symbolic to note that David Raih was let go after two years and Jerry Sullivan remains the offensive overseer in the passing game. Let’s not forget that David Raih, when he was WRC of the Packers helped to develop Davante Adams, Marquez Valdez-Scantling and Allen Lazard.

As for Keim’s choices for his coaching hires on defense, while the hiring of Vance Joseph was initially met by great excitement by Cardinals’ fans and pundits, once everyone began to see his quirky version of the 34 defense and, in particular, how soft his run defense and zone coverages are, it was cause for alarm.

Even worse is that to run a good 34 defense the 4 linebackers have to be good across the board —- and under Vance Joseph with Billy Davis as LBC the vast majority of the LBs they have played have not been the kind to 34 LB proto-types that are best suited to play their respective positions. Like in the first year thinking that Terrell Suggs at his age could still be an effective 34 WOLB while taking the better choice at WOLB in Chandler Jones and switching him over to SOLB.

After it was clear that the star veterans whom Joseph was given in his first season as DC did not play hard or consistently well, Keim gave Joseph a mulligan and exonerated him by saying that he, the GM, hadn’t given him enough talent to work with.

The tremendous irony since then is that the only good proto=typical, veteran 34 LB fits like ILB De’Vondre Campbell and SOLB Haason Reddick (first ever to rush, contain and cover like a good SOLB should) were jettisoned away in free agency —- and the best rookie ILB fits in Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins, in which Keim invested back-to-back 1st round picks, were routinely benched and improperly developed by Vance Joseph and Billy Davis.

And now comes the irony of all ironies, many Cardinals’ fans and pundits these days are urging Steve Keim to re-sign Campbell, Reddick and Rasul Douglas —- three players who upon their defections immediately shined with their new teams.

Thus, if a coach cannot recognize and utilize the talent he’s been afforded —- and —- he can’t employ and develop two unanimous 1st Team All-American linebackers (2019 Butkus and 2020 Nagurski Award winners) —- then what are the excuses now?

Plus, in terms of game planning —- after three years of game planning versus the Rams’ style of offense, Sean McVay is 10-1 versus Joseph’s defense and Jared Goff is 6-0 —- with both McVay and Goff delivering major whoopings of over 30 points a game.

At this point, if the Cardinals’ DC hasn’t by now shown a competitive plan to stop the Rams’ bread and butter plays, how can he still be trusted to be the DC? And with the way Simmons and Collins have been handled, how can the LBC still be trusted?

The fact that Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim continue to enable and condone this type of incompetence on the defensive side of the ball, which has caused the HC and the star QB to shoulder the pressure of having to score every time they get the ball, it is a major reason why the owner and GM are setting up Kliff Kingsbury to fail.

In the comment section of Wednesday’s Part 2 article, veteran ROTB member, since61, offered this impressive litany of reasons why Kliff Kingsbury is being set up as Bidwill and Keim’s next scapegoat:

1 —- missed draft picks that can’t get developed (Simmons/Collins) and some that can’t even get on the field —- like Andy Isabella for starters

2 —- Poor FA signings eating up cap —- just those on the squad now Kennard, Phillips, Humphries, Green

3 —- High dead cap and no cap left to sign top tier FA without moving current impact players —- CJ, Edmonds, Connor

4 —- No coaching changes- —- one for a an underperforming staff all looking to replace their HC who apparently can’t demand any coaching changes

5 —- Mcvay has had 20 assistant coaches hired across the League in the last 3 seasons-How many Cards assistants hired away and promoted by other franchises —- one.

6 —- poor relationship, communication and pettiness with the team’s best player who touches the ball every offensive play

7 —- No consultant or experienced advisors to help a young HC without any NFL experience-ala GB hiring T Clements and even Mike Brown hiring experienced mentors for his young coaching staff

8 —- nothing and no one who made the Wilks/McCoy decisions has changed! It’s Groundhog Bidwill Failure Days all over again.

Commentary:

The best teams in the NFL make key and timely coaching, personnel and game planning adjustments.

It would appear very clearly at this point that Kliff Kingsbury is going to be the victim of what exactly plagued his Texas Tech teams down the stretch each year —- sub par defenses and lack of depth (which Mina Kimes so aptly pointed to as one of thee main reasons why the Cardinals became unhinged down the stretch this season).

The teams with the least depth are always the ones hurt most down the stretch because attrition bites every team to the point where the team’s depth has to be trusted.

You know, some Cardinals’ fans keep cheering every time the Cardinals cut or trade a draft pick —- but please then make the case how Max Garcia was a better option at center than Mason Cole (or even Lamont Gaillard), or how a street free agent coming off of COVID is a better option than Tay Gowan?

If the Cardinals improve the talent and depth around Kyler Murray, does anyone question whether the offense can average scores in the neighborhood of 30 points a game?

Despite hKliff Kingsbury being handcuffed by the GM and an owner who sits by idly while pundits and fans (and even a mole inside the organization) issue an incessant barrage of disparaging comments about the head coach and star QB, Kliff has already proven himself to be the best coach the Cardinals have had, not only since Bruce Arians in 2014, but, unlike with BA, in coaching players with different personalities.

Ah —- the very thing that Michael Bidwill was hoping for when he hired Steve Wilks.

The players not only like playing for Kliff, they respect him. As do the veteran assistant coaches who acknowledge Kliff’s willingness to collaborate, his insatiable work ethic and his unselfish willingness to shoulder the blame for all of the team’s shortcomings. Kliff gets the respect, because he gives the respect.

Therefore, it is my belief that the five most valuable assets in the organization right now are Kliff Kingsbury, Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, Budda Baker and J.J. Watt.

We already how how much DeAndre Hopkins, Budda Baker and J.J. Watt believe in Kliff and Kyler —- and that’s all Michael Bidwill needs to know.

Therefore, here are the moves, imo, that would be in the Cardinals’ best immediate and long-term interests:

  1. Extend Kliff’s and Kyler’s contracts so that the players and coaches know hw invested the organization is in them. This would also allay any doubts that free agents might have about the Cardinals’ leadership at HC and QB. If you recall, J.J. Watt said one of the main reasons why he chose the Cardinals was because of QB Kyler Murray. If K2’s and K1’s status remains up in the air and twisting in the wind, then what free agents will want to sign and commit to the team? Free agents want to play for Kliff. They want to play with Kyler. We should remember that and never lose sight of it.
  2. Extend Jeff Rodgers’ contract and sign UFA KR/PR Jakeem Grant (TTU player with Kliff) so that for once in Rodgers’ tenure in Arizona he has a return man who is aggressive and dynamic. The return game is really the only facet of special teams that Rodgers has not mastered.
  3. Make a change at DC and LB coach. Vic Fangio is available. Make him the highest paid DC in the NFL. If he’s not interested, Romeo Crennel (who loved coaching J.J. Watt and vice versa) might ne persuaded to leave the Texans as an advisor in order to be the Cardinals’ DC. And if Fangio and Crennel are unavailable, how about hiring the Rams’ defensive run game coordinator and defensive line coach Eric Henderson? Wow, how cool would that be?
  4. Most of all, make the much needed and long-overdue change at GM. The three candidates to consider, imo, are Adrian Wilson (Cardinals’ VP of Pro Scouting), Louis Riddick (ESPN NFL analyst) and Catherine Raiche (Eagles VP of Football Operations).

Without making these pivotal types of changes, the 2022 season is apt to be a significant disappointment in Arizona. The players know when team leadership is the problem.

Can the organization afford to take another morale-breaking step backward?