The Arizona Cardinals announced Monday that they have fired Steve Wilks, the franchise's first head coach not to last at least two seasons since Buddy Ryan (1994-95) and only the NFL's seventh head coach over the past decade who was fired after only one year.
The Cardinals went from 8-8 last year in Bruce Arians' send-off campaign to 3-13 under Wilks in the franchise's worst season since 2000. Wilks fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy in Week 8, the first tangible sign that the former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator could be one and done in the desert, and the improvements by top pick Josh Rosen and the league's most inept offense under interim OC Byron Leftwich were few and far between.
Rosen didn't become the full-time starter until Week 4, when placeholder Sam Bradford was benched. GM Steve Keim signed the well-compensated vet to an incentive-laden deal with a minimum value of $16 million for 2018. That was one of several clear signs in the offseason that the Cardinals — who won four of six down the stretch last season prior to Arians and QB Carson Palmer retiring — expected to compete for a playoff spot, not the first overall pick in the draft, which they secured Sunday with a 27-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Although he received strong, recent endorsements from some of his more well-known pupils, including Charles Tillman and Patrick Peterson, Wilks' fatal flaw in his maiden head-coaching voyage was evident early in his unwillingness to tailor his schemes around his existing personnel. Peterson, who will one day be enshrined in Canton for his press-coverage prowess, was miscast in Bowles' zone defense.
Arizona wasted an entire year of David Johnson's prime after signing him to a big extension on the eve of the regular season and failing to fully tap into his three-down ability. And several of Steve Keim's recent premium picks, including LB Haason Reddick and S Budda Baker, never were fully assimilated in Wilks' scheme.
That hints at a disconnect between the head coach and general manager. Remember, Keim ignored the recommendation of Arians, who after overseeing the franchise's most successful five-year stretch, endorsed his defensive coordinator, James Bettcher, as his replacement. But Keim opted for Wilks, who had only one season of experience coordinating the Carolina Panthers defense, and Bettcher wound up with the same title with the New York Giants.
Yes, the offense was Arizona's most egregious issue this season. But a 'D' that ranked in the top six in the NFL in total yardage in four of five years under the offensive-minded Arians, nosedived to 19th (27th in scoring), clearly missing the continuity it enjoyed under the previous regime, when it avoided a stark drop-off with Bettcher replacing Todd Bowles.
The question, then, is whether Keim will be granted by the Bidwill family the chance to hire a third head coach. He hit a home run with Arians, the Coach of the Year in his second season, who finished with a record of 49-30-1, before badly whiffing on Wilks.
Although Rosen's rookie struggles have been vast, Keim seemed to get good value in trading up five spots to draft the UCLA product No. 10 overall, parting only with a third- and fifth-rounder for their potential QB of the future. The presence of the talented Rosen, paired with the top overall pick and recent Year 2 leaps elsewhere under new staffs by Jared Goff and Mitch Trubisky, is a big factor making the Arizona job an attractive one.
But in addition to bungling the Wilks hire, Keim's recent drafts have been uneven, and he was arrested over the summer for driving under the influence, subsequently earning a suspension from the NFL. That created a black eye for the franchise even before its disastrous 2018 campaign and could undo any good a Cardinals lifer in Keim had built up within the organization.
Whether the Cardinals are embarking on a search for a new general manager in addition to Wilks' replacement, don't be surprised if they follow in the footsteps of the division rival L.A. Rams and conference peer Chicago Bears by targeting offensive-minded coaches to foster Rosen's development.