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The Significance of Cardinals Hiring Jonathan Gannon as Head Coach

The Cardinals are trying a much different approach to building a staff and new football culture.

Philadelphia Eagles v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With Arizona’s hiring of Jonathan Gannon as head coach, the Cardinals are trying a much different approach to building a staff and new football culture.

What Michael Bidwill and new GM Monti Ossenfort were looking for in the head coach is an alpha type leader and motivator who possesses a certain “it factor” that they believe will create a brand new culture in the clubhouse and on the football field.

The new staff building model that the Cardinals are investing in is akin to what the Eagles did when they hired Nick Sirianni. Sirianni is the tone-setting overseer of a staff that is comprised of young, up-and-coming coordinators, helped out at times by senior advisors.

While Nick Sirianni provides his input of game plans and selected play calls, he is not burdened by having to be both the head coach and principal play caller on one side of the ball. He is the head coach for all of the players and all of the coaches. His primary function is to be the team’s day-to-day and game manager.

Before we get into some of the specifics about the coaches Jonathan Gannon is keen on hiring, let’s take a look at the tone setting he has already started during his first hour on the job.

Gannon’s Message to the Bird Gang and Red Sea:

That’s right Bird Gang: “Ready to get to work. We’re going to have some fun. Buckle up.”

Are you impressed with this straight-to-the-point message?

I am.

Gannon’s Message to Kyler Murray and the Cardinals’ Players:

“Let’s go win, got it!”

Are you impressed with this exchange between Kyler Murray and Jonathan Gannon?

To be honest, this video gave me goosebumps and the biggest burst of hope that I have felt in quite some time.

In essence, this video captures the gist of what the Cardinals want Jonathan Gannon to do. Make solid, upbeat relationships. Stir the pot. Fire people up. Get everyone focused and on the same page. This is Jonathan Gannon’s job description in a nutshell.

Gannon’s Potential Staff (per early speculations):

Offensive Coordinator: Drew Petzing (Browns’ QB Coach)

A couple of says ago, I looked into Drew Petzing’s background to find his connection to Jonathan Gannon, but yesterday I reached out to my great friend Barry Shuck, the outstanding writer for the Cleveland Browns on SB Nation to ask him to give us the inside scoop on Petzing. Here is what Barry wrote:

“Drew Petzing Browns QB Coach

Drew Petzing had a history working with Browns’ head coach Kevin Stefanski while both were on staff with the Minnesota Vikings. And like every staff in the league, you tend to offer coaching positions to those men you know, how they work, what their strengths are, and that they have the same coaching philosophies as you. So naturally when Stefanski got the Browns gig, he brought over several Vikings personnel including Petzing who was tabbed to run the tight end room.

Petzing had been the Vikings WR coach so the move was seamless. After two seasons, he was elevated to QB coach; which we all know is a stone’s throw from being an offensive coordinator. There, Petzing flourished. He was thrown into a very difficult position because the Browns listed as their QB group the season before as starter Baker Mayfield, with backups as Case Keenum and Nick Mullens. For 2022, none of that group was on the roster any longer.

So here you are about to take on the QB room, and there wasn’t a familiar face among the new guys. And new guys they were. Deshaun Watson broke the bank with his $230 million deal. And with his trade with Houston, Cleveland knew he was going to have to serve some sort of suspension.

So, the backups that were signed had to have similar skills as Watson so that the offense did not have to be altered. They brought in journeyman Jacoby Brissett and Josh Dobbs. All three were touch passers who could run. And right off, they had to decide who was going to fill in for Watson during his suspension. That fell upon Petzing.

The end result was Brissett became a viable starting quarterback and at one point had the Browns offense ranked 5th overall. Brissett finished with a 64% completion ratio passing for 12 touchdowns in 11 games with just six picks.

Petzing, age 35, had been the QB coach with Minnesota in 2018 so the new position with Cleveland was merely a transition instead of a learning curve.

Both Cardinals newly-minted head coach Jonathan Gannon and Petzing were on the Vikings coaching staff, spent four seasons together and developed a close relationship.

With Gannon being a defensive mind, he will rely heavily on his OC to be somebody he knows and trusts; plus has been intertwined with his in-depth understanding of what type of offense these two men have known for years.

Petzing would call plays for Arizona for another dual threat quarterback in Kyler Murray. With his tenure with Watson, Brissett and Dobbs, he already has the experience with working with this style of QB play.

To be factual, already knowing who the starting signal caller is going into training camp with a stable QB group will be a breeze for Petzing.”

Many thanks, as always, to Barry Shuck for his thorough background info and keen insights.

One could imagine that Drew Petzing may be able to attract Jacoby Brissett or Joshua Dobbs as the bridge QB until Kyler Murray is able to return. It’s also possible that Jonathan Gannon might recommend to Drew Petzing the signing of Eagles’ QB2 Gardner Minshew, who, like Brissett and Dobbs, played solid football when pressed into duty last season.

Defensive Coordinator and Senior Advisor:

Nick Rallis was Jonathan Gannon’s linebacker coach with the Eagles the past two seasons. Rallis has been getting some strong attention for DC jobs, most recently with the Broncos.

Another DC possibility is Eagles’ defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator Dennard Wilson. Wilson has been receiving rave reviews from the Eagles’ players and is in the mix for the now open Eagles’ DC job.

Mike Zimmer is also in the mix for the Broncos’ DC job. Adding a defensive-minded coach of Mike Zimmer’s pedigree and wealth of experience could be a coup for Jonathan Gannon.

Note: Gannon, Rallis, Wilson and Zimmer are 4-3 base proponents who like to generate fierce pass rushing pressure and tending to rely on a steady staple of zone coverages.

Numbers of Eagles’ fans were frustrated with Gannon’s zone coverages, feeling that they were too conservative. Over the years on watching Mike Zimmers’ zone coverages with the Vikings, I too found them very conservative, especially late in close games.

Mike Zimmer’s PFF defensive rankings his last two seasons in MIN:

  • 2021: Overall: 20th; Run Defense: 20th; Tackling: 3rd; Pass Rush: 16th: Pass Coverage: 17th
  • 2020: Overall: 27th; Run Defense: 29th; Tackling: 26th; Pass Rush: 32nd: Pass Coverage: 18th

Jonathan Gannon’s PFF defensive rankings his two seasons in PHI:

  • 2022: Overall: 1st; Run Defense: 14th; Tackling: 14th; Pass Rush: 1st: Pass Coverage: 5th
  • 2021: Overall: 17th; Run Defense: 22nd; Tackling: 1st; Pass Rush: 5th: Pass Coverage: 13th

Where Jonathan Gannon Excels and What He Needs:

Jonathan Gannon’s strengths are generating pass rushes often with 4 man rushes, getting his players to hit with pop and swarm tackle, and employing well-timed combination man/zone coverages.

The ideal pass coverage defense in today’s NFL versus highly accurate QBs:

  • Effective 4 man rushes
  • Pesky man-to-man (5 hats on 5 receivers) coverage
  • Two deep safeties who can bracket top WRs and TEs and provide good, rangy help on deep passes.

Therefore, Gannon needs to hire a defensive passing game coordinator who could start by analyzing the coverage breakdowns the Eagles had in the 2nd half of the Super Bowl. Otherwise, Cardinals’ fans might quickly understand Eagles’ fans’ frustration with Gannon’s pass coverages.

The Buzz on Gannon: “this guy is a stud”

The Knock on Gannon: “number one reason the Eagles will lose to the Chiefs”

Like Gambo, I wanted the defensive coach who has proven he can slow down and frustrate the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen —- and do it convincingly in their own stadiums.

If the Cardinals wanted a strategist, Lou Anarumo would have fit the bill as well as any candidate in the field.

However, Monti Ossenfort wanted an alpha tone setter at the head coaching position —- and one could argue that in terms of alpha tone head coaching prospects, the two most energizing alphas in the field were DeMeco Ryans and Jonathan Gannon.

Therefore, the key to Gannon’s success as the Cardinals’ head coach, depends on the quality of the assistant coaches he hires (schemers who can make weekly and in-game adjustments) and the quality of the personnel that he and Monti Ossenfort and acquire in free agency, via trades and in the draft.

The Most Auspicious Sign That Jonathan Gannon is Already a Good Hire:

This is awesome!