Now that the Cardinals have done the right thing when it comes to their coaching situation, will they do the right thing when it comes to their coaching situation?
Severing ties with Ken Whisenhunt was a bold move for a franchise without a track record of such. After a just-ended season that included 11 losses in the last 12 weeks, there was plenty of time to think beyond the first step.
The whole idea of an Andy Reid, or a Reid-Michael Vick reunion in the desert made little sense, and Kansas City did Arizona a huge favor if, indeed, he was the Cardinals’ target. Reid looks for all the world like a guy who needs to spend about three years on a Bill Cowher broadcasting sabbatical. No need to dive back into another bad situation. Sit back, trade barbs with Michael Strahan about the good ol’ days of the NFC East, give your take on the big Carolina-Tampa matchup and wait for Dallas owner Jerry Jones to finally figure out Jason Garrett can’t coach.
If the Cardinals’ brass believes in him, the promotion of Ray Horton makes a lot of sense. Half of your team already thinks he walks on water. He took one of the most dysfunctional defenses in the league and turned it into a unit that could win games by itself if Arizona’s offense wasn’t legally required to possess the ball.
Young players have quickly developed and thrived under him, which is key to succeed in this league (compare the progress of Beanie Wells, the 31st pick of the 2009 draft, to Darryl Washington, the 47th pick in 2010). The progress of Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell, Sam Acho and others merely entering the prime of their careers allow the organization to sign some certainties rather than taking guesses with second contracts.
Still, the idea of a defense run by a hand-picked coordinator and overseen by Horton is only half of the equation. The Cardinals need a keen, proven offensive mind to pick through the rubble for salvageable parts and — instead of trying resurrect the Kurt Warner era — cobble together a 20-point-per-game offense that doesn’t put a good defense in bad situations.
Todd Haley’s offense was fun when he was here, but it also had the perfect trigger man. He went to Kansas City and tried to run it with Matt Cassell, and was barbecued. He became Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator, and, with the core of a team that has won Super Bowls, helped guide the Steelers to a comfy spot on the couch to view the playoffs. The Cardinals don’t need to go backward.
So Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy becomes attractive. If you can’t get Peyton Manning, why not someone who endorses him?
Is former San Diego coach Norv Turner ready to take a step back at a spot he was very successful in? Have the Cardinals had their eye on an unnamed candidate currently involved in the playoffs? They’ve had plenty of time to scout and plot this out since their season was over before Halloween.
The first move was painful, expensive ($5.5 million for Whisenhunt’s final year of his contract) but correct. The next decision will determine if something done for the right reason will be hailed or haunt them.
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.