Updated 4:38 p.m. ET, Monday, Dec. 31
A 1-11 finish to the 2012 season has cost head coach Ken Whisenhunt, GM Rod Graves and several Cardinals assistant coaches their jobs, the team announced Monday.
In addition to Graves and Whisenhunt, the following assistant coaches also were let go by the team: Russ Grimm(assistant head coach/offensive line), Mike Miller(offensive coordinator), Chad Grimm (offensive quality control), John McNulty (quarterbacks), Frank Reich (wide receivers), and Tommie Robinson (running backs).
The Cardinals got off to a 4-0 start before losing nine in a row, and 11 of their final 12 games. Arizona started four different quarterbacks this season and finished last in the league in total offense.
Whisenhunt took over as Arizona’s coach in 2007 and led the Cards to an NFC championship in 2008. In his six seasons, Whisenhunt had a 45-51 record, bringing the Cardinals to the playoffs twice.
"Coaching the Cardinals has been an incredible and rewarding experience and I will always be grateful to Mr. Bidwill, Michael and Rod for giving me that opportunity back in 2007," Whisenhunt said in a statement released by the team. "I’m very proud of what we as a team and as an organization achieved during that time. Collectively we accomplished some very special and unprecedented things. That’s a testament to the dedication, hard work and talent of so many coaches, players and people throughout the organization. But we all understand this business and when you don’t win enough games changes are made. That doesn’t mean it’s easy but you definitely don’t have to look far to find people that have it much worse. I want to especially thank Cardinals fans who treated my family and me so well and made our time in Arizona so special. While this chapter ends for us, we are hopeful that the ones ahead of us will be as enriching as this one has been."
Graves had been with the Cardinals since 1997 and was promoted to general manager in 2007. He received a contract extension through 2013 in February of 2010.
"I am very grateful to Michael Bidwill, to his family, to the players and to the staff of the Arizona Cardinals for the opportunity to serve the organization," Graves said in a statement released by the team. "Working with talented others to build and enhance our brand over the past 16 years has been an awesome and totally enriching experience. It has been the opportunity that others only dream of. Every day I came to work I viewed it as the ultimate privilege and never once lost sight of that. My time with the Cardinals has ended but the organization and the people in it will always have a special place within me."
Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton and vice president of player personnel Steve Keim are two in-house candidates for the vacant head coach and GM positions.
The way we see it
After making what had to have been a very tough decision, team president Mike Bidwill has two ways he can now go. His most likely course of action will be to maintain some degree of continuity and make Horton, who figures to be a hot head-coaching candidate in other venues, and Keim the Cardinals’ new head coach and GM, respectively.
A tipoff that Bidwill might be leaning in that direction was the fact that the entire defensive coaching staff remains intact, while the offensive staff, to absolutely nobody’s surprise, was totally gutted.
A much bolder alternative for Bidwill would be to bring in a Bill Polian-type GM with a successful track record and in effect give him carte-blanche authority to revamp the entire organization, beginning with the hiring of a hand-picked head coach.
As far as other head-coaching candidates besides Horton that the team might consider, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who worked in the same capacity for two seasons under Whisenhunt (including the team’s 2008 Super Bowl season) and was also the Chiefs’ head coach from 2009-2011, can not be discounted.
If Horton were to be promoted, the hiring of a high-profile offensive coordinator like perhaps Norv Turner, who many believe will quickly return to the role for which he has always been best-suited now that he’s been fired as head coach of the Chargers, would be a smart — and likely very popular — move.
There’s been some buzz that fired Eagles head coach Andy Reid could be considered as a replacement for Whisenhunt. One can’t help but quickly connect Reid with Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb, who previously played under Reid in Philadelphia and actually had his moments this season before rib injuries shut down his injury-prone body.
But the best bet is that none of the team’s current QBs will be back, with the possible exception of Brian Hoyer, and that the team’s new GM will put all his energy into using the seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft on a quarterback who could step right in and make an instant impact a la Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.
Another interesting move worth considering would be to make a strong push for likely free agent Alex Smith, whose transition into an efficient game manager who keeps mistakes to a minimum could make him appealing to a fan base that has had its fill of mistake-making QBs this season. A Smith-Greg Roman package deal courtesy of the division-rival Niners is perhaps a move worth pondering.
One final thought on Whisenhunt: He will definitely land on his feet. Having been responsible for four of the Cardinals’ six .500 or better seasons in the desert, including the fairytale Super Bowl run in 2008, in addition to putting together a very impressive 4-2 postseason record, should make him a very attractive candidate for a number of openings around the league.