Cardinals head coach: Who should Arizona hire? Interviews, candidates, finalists
The Kliff Kingsbury experience came to an end after four years this offseason when the peak fell short of expectations and a head coach-quarterback split.
From the jump, Kingsbury tied his job security to Kyler Murray, the gifted but unconventional quarterback the Arizona Cardinals picked first in the 2019 NFL Draft. Murray became Offensive Rookie of the Year and eventually a Pro Bowl talent, but under Kingbury’s tutelage he never emerged as a true superstar. Midway through the 2022 season, the marriage between the two appeared to be over, despite both signing long-term extensions earlier in the year.
With Kingsbury gone, the Cardinals’ next head coach must forge a more lasting relationship with Murray or risk the same fate as his predecessor.
Despite all of the Denver Broncos’ struggles in 2022, their defense has consistently put in an impressive performance. This game was largely thanks to defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. When Denver removed Hackett a few weeks before the end of the season, the team initially approached Evero for an interim replacement. Evero reportedly declined in order to focus on defense and limit disruption. Regardless, he’s garnered interest from several franchises this cycle, not just the Cardinals.
Brian Flores, once the de facto defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick, had successful seasons in two of his three seasons as the Miami Dolphins head coach. That run provides the crux of his argument for another shot at the top job. At the same time, Flores’ crimes never got off the ground, in large part because he was unable to hire the right coordinator. The Dolphins officially had four different OCs during Flores’ three seasons, and another change could have occurred had Flores lasted another year. He needs a much stronger plan this side of the ball this time, especially with Murray’s atypical style of play.
The Detroit Lions haven’t fielded a strong defense in the past two years, but DC Aaron Glenn has still attracted interest as a head coach. That speaks to his strong leadership skills — he’s built a reputation as a leader as a coach with the New Orleans Saints — and the general lack of defensive talent the Lions instilled in him during his two years at the Motor City. Still, given the lack of on-field results, Glenn will likely have to bang out of the park during the interview process.
Current Cardinals DC Vance Joseph has done a commendable job finding roles for “positionless” players like Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins. He also has previous experience as a head coach from his time with the Broncos. However, the Arizona defense took a step back in 2022 (No. 24 in DVOA) after two top-10 finishes on the same metric during Joseph’s first two seasons in the desert.
Sean Payton, the beauty of the ball, former headman of the New Orleans Saints, has received interview requests from almost every team with an opening. Payton has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best offensive heads in the game and a Super Bowl ring on his resume. As he remains signed with the Saints, any club interested in hiring him will have to pay compensation (presumably draft picks) on top of the hefty salary Payton will be asking.
After filing as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Dan Quinn has rekindled his reputation over the past two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. Quinn, no longer running a copy of a copy of the Legion of Boom-era Seattle Seahawks defense, has re-emerged as a viable head coach candidate. He applied for jobs during the last offseason before eventually withdrawing from consideration. This feels like time for the veteran coach to land somewhere back in the big chair.
Frank Reich’s unceremonious midseason departure as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts set the stage for the unintended comedy of the Jeff Saturday era. But that debacle shouldn’t overshadow Reich’s accomplishments, which include a 37-28 record in his first four seasons with four different starting quarterbacks. With Murray having an up-and-down career under Kingsbury’s watch, Reich appears to be a steady hand that could help the young signal caller deliver more consistent performances.
In a short time, DeMeco Ryans has established himself as one of the top defensive coordinators in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers. The team has reached the NFC Championship game for the second year in a row, thanks in large part to Ryan’s unity. And while the 49ers have immense defensive talent — including frontrunner Nick Bosa, who won Defensive Player of the Year honors — Ryans’ play-calling and in-game tweaks have largely negated weaknesses in the secondary. Ryans has attracted interest for head coaching positions over the past year and has interviewed for several teams this cycle.
Who should the Cardinals hire as their next head coach?
Putting Murray in the best position for success is the Cardinals’ top priority. Reich, who has found ways to wrest an MVP caliber game from Carson Wentz and has directed top offense with other non-elite signal callers, has the expertise and demeanor to build the right relationship with Murray. Reich’s mistakes at Indy stemmed primarily from a lack of long-term response at quarterback than from his coaching skills, and he found success with a variety of different types of players under center. In his hands, Murray was able to fulfill his potential.