For the third time in the nearly 5 years that I’ve been writing for Revenge of the Birds, the Arizona Cardinals are entering a “new era.” When I first started here, Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer had retired (albeit BA’s retirement was only temporary), giving way to the ill-fated Steve Wilks/Josh Rosen pairing. My very first RotB piece actually proved somewhat prophetic.
Wilks and Rosen only lasted a year, leading to the start of the much-ballyhooed Kliff Kingsbury/Kyler Murray era. The Kliff and Kyler Show brought the franchise out of the dregs and they improved each year, with last season’s 10-2 start the undeniable apex, the most excited this city has been about the Cardinals since the 2015 BA/Palmer 13-3 team.
We all know how that story ended—the second-half collapse, the playoff blowout, last season’s 4-13 disaster. Kingsbury was unceremoniously fired, and GM Steve Keim stepped down to likely avoid the same fate.
That brings us to today. For the first time in 10 years—when Keim and BA took the reins of the franchise in 2013—the Cardinals have both a new GM and head coach. New GM Monti Ossenfort and new HC Jonathan Gannon represent a true franchise reset like Cardinals fans have been clamoring for for years.
So… how are we feeling?
We’ll get your thoughts in the poll at the end, so I’ll tell you how I’m feeling for now. My feelings can be summed up by the following image:
This is, of course, the famous ending of the 1967 Mike Nichols film, The Graduate. (Apologies, younger readers.) Here, we see Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) and Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) after Elaine has left her husband at the altar for Ben. They board a bus, unsure of the destination as well as of their future, smiles fading into uncertainty.
I think that sums up the feelings of a lot of Cardinals fans pretty well. Many are glad to be done with the Kliff/Keim pairing, but aren’t really sure what to make of Ossenfort and Gannon.
And for good reason. Let’s be honest: Ossenfort and Gannon don’t seem to have been anyone’s first choices for the Cardinals GM/HC jobs. In fact, another GM candidate—Bears Assistant GM Ian Cunningham—actually turned down the Cardinals before Ossenfort was hired from Tennessee. And note that the Titans actually hired a new GM from outside the organization—49ers Director of Player Personnel Ron Carthon—passing over Ossenfort, an internal candidate. This isn’t meant as a slight to Ossenfort’s credentials and abilities at all, but it’s worth pointing out that he wasn’t our #1 choice and that his old organization wasn’t exactly sad to lose him.
With Gannon, the Cardinals coaching search is well documented. Ossenfort and Michael Bidwill were connected to no fewer than 12(!) other candidates before hiring Gannon from the Super Bowl runner-up Eagles. There’s really no denying that Sean Payton was the team’s #1 choice before he ultimately went with the Broncos job. And the Cardinals were reportedly very interested in DeMeco Ryans, who didn’t even give us an interview before accepting an offer from the Texans, whose roster is in even worse shape than ours. We also suffered the ignominy of Brian Flores taking the Vikings DC job while he was still a candidate for our HC opening.
We were eventually able to land Gannon, but who knows how high on our initial list of candidates he was. He was reportedly an early favorite of Ossenfort, which is a good sign, but hiring him on the heels of the Eagles second-half defensive collapse in the Super Bowl isn’t encouraging. In fact, that was a buzzy social media topic for a few days after the hire was announced. It probably doesn’t matter in the long run—it was two quarters against one of the best QBs to ever play the game, and we didn’t hire Gannon to run our defense—but it still contributes to that feeling of uncertainty. As does the sentiment that, kind of like Ossenfort, Eagles fans aren’t sad to see Gannon go.
We got our guys, but doesn’t it kind of feel like we settled a bit? No Sean Payton or DeMeco Ryans, no Ian Cunningham or Ron Carthon. The big, buzzy names all chose other teams, often outright turning the Cardinals down. It doesn’t feel great, does it? But that just shows how our franchise is viewed throughout the league—guys would rather take a coordinator job than a head job here, would rather coach the Texans, who have had two one-and-done head coaches the past two seasons, than us. We’re a lower-tier franchise, the rest of the league seems to be telling us.
So, yeah, I’m feeling a little uncertain, a little ambivalent about these hires and the direction of our franchise. (That’s without even mentioning the Kyler Murray injury/contract situation… that’s for another time.) But there’s also always a sense of possibility that comes with a regime change like this. And Gannon’s undeniable energy also has me feeling somewhat galvanized.
I’m absolutely keeping an open mind about these guys and will try to stay positive. Maybe, hopefully, these are the guys that lift us out of that bottom tier, make the desert a destination for premier talent. Maybe they’re the Cardinals equivalent to James Jones and Monty Williams. I mean, Monty/Monti is pretty close, right? (Although a Kevin Durant equivalent isn’t walking through the door here anytime soon…)
It’s an interesting, uncertain time to be a Cardinals fan. We’ll see what Ossenfort can do with free agency and the draft right around the corner. We’ll see how Kyler’s recovery goes. And we’ll see what Gannon can do with a new-look Cardinals team once they take the field next season.
But for now, I’ll just ride that bus, uncertain yet excited like Ben and Elaine.