As the Cardinals prepare for their first training camp under new head coach Jonathan Gannon, I thought I’d take a look at how his situation as a new coach compares to that of Kliff Kingsbury. There’s some obvious surface-level similarities (they’re both young for NFL head coaches) and differences (Kingsbury was an offensive guy, Gannon is a defensive guy). But let’s look beyond that and consider the state of the franchise/roster as well. Let’s start with some similarities.
No NFL Head Coaching Experience
This one could almost be a difference, as both coaches took vastly different paths to the Cardinals head job. Kingsbury was a college QB who rose meteorically through the college coaching ranks, parlaying his perceived “QB whisperer” status into an NFL head coaching gig despite barely a decade of coaching experience (including just 4 mediocre seasons as the HC at Texas Tech). Meanwhile, Gannon has nearly two decades’ worth of coaching experience, working his way up through the NFL ranks on the defensive side of the ball, culminating in leading the NFC champion Eagles’ fearsome defense.
But if we’re talking similarities, there’s one critical thing both men have in common: neither had any NFL head coaching experience prior to taking the job. That was apparent with Kingsbury right away, and he never really got a great handle on the intricacies of preparation and game/clock management. Can Gannon avoid those common rookie coaching pitfalls?
Both Took Over a Bad Football Team
As is usually the case when a team makes a coaching change, both men took charge over largely terrible football teams. In fact, the 2018 and 2022 Cardinals seasons were among the worst in franchise history. The one-year disaster that was the Steve Wilks era ended with a 3-13 record that tied for the worst in the long history of the Cardinals. And Kingsbury’s final season ended in a barely-better 4-13 record (gotta love that 17-game season, right?). Both teams were full of obvious roster holes that did/do need time to fix. Kingsbury got the Cardinals back to .500 in two seasons and to the playoffs in three. Can Gannon equal or better that?
The QB Situation Was in Flux for Both
Another notable similarity is that the QB position was unsettled for both men when they took the job—and the same player was involved, just for different reasons. When Kingsbury was hired, we had just witnessed the brutal rookie season of former 1st-round pick Josh Rosen. Remember, Kyler was just a glint in Steve Keim’s eye at that point. And we all remember the “Josh is our guy” stuff. A few months later, we drafted Kyler and the rest is (ongoing) history. But for those few months, the Cardinals QB situation is very much up in the air.
The same goes for the 2023 Cardinals under Gannon. This time, it’s because Kyler is coming off a late-season ACL tear and likely won’t be ready for the start of the regular season. But even more than that, many fans and observers are wondering if Kyler, despite his huge contract, is still the future of the QB position for this team. The Cardinals have two 1st-round picks that are expected to be in the top 5 or so in next year’s draft—with a more than decent shot to once again land the #1 pick. Expect the name of Caleb Williams to be discussed in relation to the Cardinals a LOT in the next 10 months.
Roster Turnover (Duh)
On to the differences. Okay, this is an obvious one—roster turnover is just a fact of life in the NFL, especially when changing coaches. But there are only four Cardinals players on the current roster who were there when Kingsbury was hired in 2019: D.J. Humphries (by far the longest-tenured Cardinal), Budda Baker, Dennis Gardeck, and Zeke Turner. The 2019 draft a few months later gave us Kyler and Jalen Thompson (who was actually selected in the supplemental draft). But the roster turnover might be complete before much longer—we just drafted Hump’s replacement, Budda is in the midst of a contract dispute, Gardeck/Turner aren’t much above replacement level, and we just had the Kyler discussion above. How much longer until Gannon gets a roster that’s just “his guys”?
Gannon Was Able to Choose His Own Staff
Speaking of “his guys,” unlike Kingsbury, Gannon was able to choose his own staff. He brought Nick Rallis from Philadelphia as DC and snatched Drew Petzing from Cleveland to oversee the offense. He also handpicked most if not all of the position coaches/assistants. The one big holdover is special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers, who has been with the team since 2018. On the other hand, Michael Bidwill/Steve Keim hired some of the big names around Kingsbury (Vance Joseph, Tom Clements), causing friction in the relationship with Kingsbury that never really went away. That HAD to play a part in how the team never fully came together in his tenure. Fortunately, things are already starting differently under this new regime.
Full Regime Change
That’s because the team’s leadership got a much-needed reset this offseason. Not only did the team fire Kingsbury, but they also parted ways with former GM Steve Keim. After the one-year horror show that was the Wilks era, many questioned Bidwill’s decision to keep the bathwater while tossing out the baby by retaining Keim. And it’s not even clear if the Kingsbury hire was actually Keim’s doing. But four mostly lackluster years later, all Bidwill had to show for that decision was no division titles, no playoff wins, and a talent-barren roster.
Thankfully, Keim is gone and we hired Monti Ossenfort from Tennessee in his place. Ossenfort was instrumental in hiring Gannon, and the two will hopefully be in lockstep moving forward—something that’s a hallmark of successful organizations and something that was never the case with the previous regime.
Like Kingsbury, Gannon is a rookie head coach taking over a bad team with a lot of uncertainty at the QB position. But he’s working with a different roster, was able to choose his own coaching staff, and is working in tandem with a new GM who actually wanted to hire him. We’ll see if those factors result in the Gannon era being more successful than the Cardinals than the Kingsbury era.
Do you see any other notable similarities or differences, RotBers? Let us know in the comments.