The Arizona Cardinals’ experiment with Kliff Kingsbury is expected to come to an end soon. The news comes after the Cardinals were eliminated from the playoffs at 4-9. Kingsbury is deemed to be a major factor in the Cardinals’ underwhelming year, hence his inevitable culling. While no official announcement has been made, Kingsbury’s era looks like it could end after four seasons. If the Cardinals keep hold of Kingsbury for 2023, he will need to show vast improvement to keep his job beyond the season.
Allegedly Kliff Kingsbury's time in Arizona could be coming to an end#PMSLive pic.twitter.com/5h2LjWsYCm
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) December 23, 2022
Rumours surrounding Kingsbury’s long-term future have surfaced after GM Steve Keim’s expected exit. The 50-year-old is currently taking indefinite leave from the team for ‘health’ reasons, but he is not expected to return to the team. As such, the Cardinals are believed to be looking at potential replacements for Keim, though an in-house promotion seems likeliest.
With Keim on his way out, it seems Kingsbury’s exit is likely. The Cardinals job currently looks like a poisoned chalice, however. The benefits are that the team have a star quarterback on a long-term deal. On the flip side, the Cardinals have an ageing roster and only middling draft capital. All of that comes with an owner and fanbase expecting imminent success.
The likeliest option for the Cardinals is to find an external hire. The current coaching staff have very few candidates for top coaching roles. For the new GM, appointing the right coach will be imperative to rebuilding the Cardinals as quick as possible. There are a number of good candidates for head coaching gigs and so the Cardinals have options. They will, however, be competing with a few rebuilding teams.
Six Potential Kliff Kingsbury Replacements for Cardinals
Part of who the Cardinals appoint as their HC will depend on who is the GM. If the Cardinals opt for an in-house hire, Vance Joseph could be a top candidate. Both Quentin Harris and Adrian Wilson have seen the work of Joseph and could trust the current DC to take the reins of the team. Joseph had previously been the HC of the Denver Broncos but failed to deliver any success.
Since his stint in Denver, Joseph has developed a lot. With the Cardinals, his title of ‘Defensive Coordinator’ has been an understatement given how he essentially co-manages the team with Kingsbury. Indeed, he was even the interim HC for the team when Kingsbury was ill during some of the 2021 season. Joseph drew heavy interest from the Miami Dolphins for their HC vacancy last year, but ultimately stayed put in Arizona. Should he be the Cardinals’ pick, there would be an element of continuity for the players. That might not necessarily be a good thing though.
There is no doubt that Sean Payton is the fan favourite for the HC role in Arizona. The Cardinals are also currently the favourites to sign him too. It is believed that Payton is interested in three jobs: the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Chargers and the Cardinals. With neither the Cowboys nor Chargers expected to part ways with their coaches, the Cardinals could be Payton’s landing spot. It was revealed earlier in the season that Payton had taken a great interest in the Cardinals HC job, mostly due to Kyler Murray.
Obviously Sean Payton is a top dog. My understanding right now is Payton has a high affinity for the Chargers & Cowboys, w/t Cardinals being a consideration too, if jobs become available. When Denver calls, I expect him to listen, though he historically prefers strong link to GM.
— JosinaAnderson (@JosinaAnderson) December 26, 2022
Payton was most recently with the New Orleans Saints. The Saints still own the rights to Payton and so, if the Cardinals are to acquire him, they would need to offer a trade. Owner Michael Bidwill would also need to pay Payton a handsome contract.
Would the fans like another college coach in Arizona? It seems unlikely. However, Lincoln Riley could be an ideal candidate for Arizona given his previous work with Murray. Riley was Murray’s college coach and led him to a Heisman Trophy in 2018. He also coached Marquise Brown that year.
Riley is currently head coach of the USC Trojans. He was previously the head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners. Having only been a college head coach since 2017, it is impressive that Riley has managed to coach three Heisman winners (Baker Mayfield, Murray and Caleb Williams).
The 39-year-old would be a bold acquisition for the Cardinals. Many believe that he is NFL ready, but others point to his lack of a winning pedigree at the college level. This was one of the biggest knocks on Kingsbury’s hire in 2019 too. However, Riley seems to be a much more polished coach than Kingsbury was.
In just over a calendar year, Lincoln Riley leaves Oklahoma for USC and Oklahoma has its first losing season since 1998.
— RJ Young (@RJ_Young) December 30, 2022
The Philadelphia Eagles are flying high at the moment and much of that is down to their exceptional coaching staff. The players have got behind Nick Sirianni and his staff and they are Super Bowl favourites currently. Shane Steichen is currently the OC for the Eagles and has played a big part in turning the Eagles into one of the league’s scariest teams.
There is no doubt that Steichen’s work with Jalen Hurts (now an MVP candidate) and the Eagles has caught the attention of the wider league. He will be a sought-after HC candidate in the next recruitment cycle and Arizona would do excellently to acquire him. His offensive system would also match well with Arizona’s current personnel, given the similarities between some of the playmakers on the Eagles and Cardinals. One particularly intriguing element of Steichen is his development of the Eagles’ intricate RPO plays. This is something that Hurts has excelled in and, with Murray, Steichen could find even more creative ways to design runs.
Jerod Mayo would be a smart choice as the next Cardinals HC. Mayo is currently the coach for the New England Patriots inside linebackers and has been integral to the Patriots defensive success this season. He has been particularly effective at putting raw athletes in positions to succeed, something that the Cardinals need to do more of.
Isaiah Simmons: JACK OF ALL TRADES 🤯 pic.twitter.com/LCg2AcoNhU
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) December 26, 2022
Choosing a defensive HC is a risk, but many believe that 36-year-old Mayo might just be worth it. Arizona is a perfect landing spot given the pure athleticism they have on defense. Mayo would be able to utilise and develop the likes of Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson, Zaven Collins, Isaiah Simmons, Byron Murphy, Myjai Sanders and Cam Thomas among others. The issue is that there have been few defensive-minded HCs of late. Matt Eberflus is doing a decent job with the Chicago Bears but other defensive HCs have struggled. Indeed, the Cardinals opted for a defensive appointment in 2018 that resulted in a 3-13 season.
Should the Cardinals appoint Wilson as their next GM, Leftwich would likely be a favorite to be Arizona’s HC. In the off-season, it was rumored that the Jacksonville Jaguars were set to appoint Wilson and Leftwich until a last-minute switch. Thus, it seems the two are keen to work together.
Leftwich has also had a history with the Cardinals. In their shambolic 2018 season, Leftwich took over as the OC after the team sacked Mike McCoy. He was not spectacular but earned himself some clout in Bruce Arians’ ranks previously. He is currently the OC for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has had an underwhelming season with Tom Brady and co. However, Arizona could look to give Leftwich a homecoming to revitalize his career. Despite this, Leftwich would be an unpopular appointment among the Cardinals fanbase given Leftwich’s 2022 season.