The Arizona Cardinals have been, without question, one of the poorest performing organizations in the history of the National Football League.
They have the longest drought in NFL History, and the Jaguars have had 4 division titles since their team inception, while the Cardinals have only 3 since their NFC West divisional shift.
That all changed, however, from the 1988-2005 Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals when the team’s days at Sun Devil Stadium in the hot 118 degree August heat flipped to a beautiful, state-of-the-art NFL quality stadium in Glendale, now known as State Farm Stadium.
Suddenly, the team needed just one successful season behind two star receivers and a “washed-up” QB born again in the second half of his career in the desert in Kurt Warner and they went from being down in the druthers of the rest of pro football to being capable and able to make the playoffs, or even a run.
The Arians-Keim paring was a great close to what had been the team’s first true “clean house” scenario after Michael Bidwill became team president, and even that didn’t go as well.
The Cardinals’ pursuit of Andy Reid (to fix QB Kevin Kolb) and Mike McCoy ended in failure, and it took the Chicago Bears passing on Bruce Arians to jumpstart one of the best eras in Cardinals history.
Averaging 10 wins a season, the internal promotion of Keim and expanding of the team’s scouting department and paying key players all reversed the trends that Michael Bidwill’s father, Bill Bidwill, had done.
Bill’s approach, unfortuately, didn’t have the same standards or care when it came to money, as former players talked about being forced to pay for socks and being given just one pair as a team, cheapness being the prime directive of Bill Bidwill. For all of the pluses of moving to Arizona, one of the biggest cons that remained was that the Cardinals either didn’t have as much to offer as other franchises, or simply wouldn’t for the goal of keeping profit rolling amidst an onslaught of mostly crappy teams.
But that seemed to all change when the Cardinals’ success went to the NFC Championship game and their culture assuredly had seemed to change for the better.
Well, fast forward a few years and let’s see what Michael Bidwill’s job as Team President has been like thus far ever since the 2017 sesaon:
- Didn’t prepare for life after Carson Palmer (despite Bruce Arians and/or Steve Keim being adamant about making a move for a quarterback)
- Didn’t keep stability with the Cardinals’ staff and moved Bruce Arians’ team out for Steve Wilks, who was fired after one season
- Kept GM Steve Keim through a difficult DUI process AND a bad 3-13 season that saw a rough draft and offensive line for several years until D.J. Humphries got healthy
- Drafted a bust in Josh Rosen after trading up into the top 10 for him only to move on a year later
- Hired a former fired collegiate head coach in Kliff Kingsbury after being turned down by veteran coaches such as Mike McCarthy, Mike Munchak, Eric Bieniemy and others during the process
- Gave HC and GM Steve Keim shocking extensions following a 1-5 finish to the 2021 season only to reportedly at least move on from one, if not both, the following season
- Was at the center of a controversial “study clause” as a part of QB Kyler Murray’s extension
- Was in the middle of a 4-12 season that has seen Arizona thus far lose 6 games in a row.
That’s a HUGE amount of pain to endure for a franchise that was supposed to be seeing better days after the 2015 NFC Title run.
And for a moment, if you will, let’s say that Owner & Team President Michael Bidwill HAD hired a team president (Let’s call him Joe Football) in the 2017 season who had been running the majority of the team, the general manager, the head coach and overseeing and making decisions on the decision-makers.
We’d be saying “Why isn’t Joe Football out of a job, yet?”
And that’s really just how unfortunately bad it’s been for the Cardinals. Their entire debacle has all been under while he has been the team president.
And while an owner can do “as they want” with an NFL team and who’s to argue...it’s not like Michael Bidwill is a man who doesn’t care or wants to lose.
He wants to win, and that’s a big difference from someone like William Bidwill Sr. in that there’s a competitive nature and there’s change. When Steve Wilks didn’t work, the team moved on.
Unfortunately, this includes a blind spot. Like the fact that...the hiring of Wilks itself stemmed from him and his GM forcing different people into positions that didn’t work. Having Wilks unable to pick his own offensive coordinator, or his own quarterback, and not learning from the talent of Lamar Jackson falling past Arizona to recognize the team’s struggles within their scouting department that needed probably more of a fresh look.
And let’s be honest. It’s really hard to recognize your own blind spots.
For example, a few years back when watching film of team drills working for the Arizona Rattlers, I would see myself on film, running around with water bottles or setting up cones and drills for the coaches and players.
And, as someone who walked on his tiptoes from ages 2-9, I understood that I had issues with my legs and body as it were, and didn’t have a lot of long-term running endurance and struggled to hike up hills.
On film, you could see how tight my legs and muscles were that it almost looked like my knees bent BACKWARDS when I would move around.
Later that year, I tore multiple ligaments in my ankle and ended up with a surgery that fixed my flat foot syndrome and it was needed anyway, but I needed to have a trusted foot doctor be able to evaluate the situation, as well as clean up those ligaments that were not healing.
It might have happened anyway, but an outside look REALLY exposed something that I didn’t even see when I was looking in the mirror and had to have a doctor tell me “that isn’t normal and you need surgery”.
I’ve written about this already with Michael Bidwill this season, and in how it’s difficult to not only start with the man in the mirror but in how often when you try to find that something in the way....it turns out to be you.
And that’s a tough pill to swallow.
It means that you have to swallow your pride to get better. And those who do...often always do get better.
A great look is in Apple. Steve Jobs TWICE altered the history of the company. First, he developed the Mac II and saw critical and sales success...only for the Xerox Alto’s graphical interface unit (GUI) and mouse to look like the future and he upended the table, creating the Macintosh and essentially saving Apple from what would have sunk their product.
Secondly, he returned as the CEO after NeXt (his company) was acquired by an Apple corporation on the verge of bankruptcy.
See Apple since Jobs left shifted from a consumer driven approach to being a high-end company selling more expensive, high end machines.
(Seriously—look at Mac products between the MacIntosh and the iPod...they were pricy!)
Jobs returned the company to a direction of innovation that was accessible to everyone from high end to the common man and dug into current trends—finding success in the music market as well as with Mac and micro-computing, to eventually create the iPhone.
It took, essentially, humility from the same Apple board members who may have been part of forcing Steve Jobs out, to bring him back to restore their company. Whew.
And I think that ultimately if there’s a “why” to look at with Michael Bidwill and the shift of the Cardinals’ from being a culture that saw playoff success and wins to one that didn’t....it’s how the head coach was handled.
Bruce Arians left, retired and then when he unretired, won a Super Bowl with a different team...and then retired again.
Which begs the question...why didn’t Arians want to return to Arizona?
And why didn’t the Cardinals keep their coach (who was still under contract) to return to their sideline like the Steelers with Bill Cowher?
One of the easiest, and hardest to accept answers is that...they didn’t want each other. Arians’ health was an issue, but the Cardinals’ response to go COMPLETELY in a new direction from Arians only to then double down after firing Steve Wilks and keep Steve Keim (in a year which personnel decisions was as big an issue as coaching) seems to show that Michael Bidwill didn’t see his coach as the “secret sauce”.
And with a lot of the Cardinals’ turnaround it wouldn’t shock me if he saw the national media attention that Bruce Arians with his hats, drinking and funny quotes got and if he didn’t feel a bit jealous. Wanting some credit, maybe?
It goes without saying that everyone has an ego. Everyone wants praise and adoration and credit...especially when it comes to something as famous and national as a football team.
And often, owners don’t get the credit that many feel they do as far as a team goes...maybe they don’t play that role or that part but it’s also just part of the nature of sports.
I say these three names, what do you think of?
Best quarterback ever?
Best coach ever?
Bill Belichick gotta be up there.
Best NFL Owner?
See? Just simply the nature of being an owner means that you don’t get the credit you may deserve, versus seeing Patriots Owner Robert Kraft’s name in the news for...another reason.
However, whomever gets the credit...also gets the blame.
Look at Kliff Kingsbury or Kyler Murray. In fact, one could argue that Michael Bidwill actually put his name into the news and took on far more negative blame partially just because he’s been so closely involved in the team.
If you dig this pit, there’s a chance you fall into it. Distance from a team is usually the easiest way around that, and part of why Michael Bidwill should look at taking a step back himself. Not just for the betterment of the team but also as a sign to other NFL coaches and general managers that the mismanagement of the Cardinals and micromanaging would be a thing of the past.
But with reports coming out that Michael Bidwill might promote Adrian Wilson and Quentin Harris and simply keep DC Vance Joseph on as the team’s head coach...that doesn’t change much, though?
It’d be like taking in an old beat up car, putting a fresh coat of paint on it, and then trying to re-sell it.
With Arizona’s flaws aired to a national audience on Hard Knocks, Michael Bidwill needs to recognize that no one’s buying what he’d be selling since everyone has seen the interior and what’s under the hood.
In short, this is the choice that Michael Bidwill has to make this offseason. He’s already likely had to swallow his pride and being a laughingstock for the extensions he handed out, but he might be seen by many as a victim.
He saw his head coach retire, had a general manager who didn’t draft well and no quarterback to sell coaches on (or less of one with Josh Rosen!)
If he ends up running the same team and situation back next season without bringing in a big name at head coach, he will go from victim to villain in the minds of many Cardinals fans.
“He doesn’t care”.
“He doesn’t want to win.”
“Same old Cardinals.”
“He’s just like his father.”
All comments that I’ve seen, heard or read in both media and on social media. True? It depends. Things both change less than we want but people are capable of change.
And that’s the decision that Michael Bidwill will face as Arizona enters this offseason.
It’s not a light one to make.
But there’s a chance that it’s the right one to make.