FLAGSTAFF - Jerry Sullivan had turned down the Cardinals’ offer to make him offensive coordinator, and he was emphatic.
He was a teacher of receivers. That was his first and only love. He had no desire to concern himself with the other parts of an offense.
“I’m not 25 years old. I know what I am and what I do well,” Sullivan said in early January. “I love the intricacies of the passing game. . . . When you go in at the goal line, with three tight ends and two backs, it’s time (for me) to have a Twinkie or something.”
The statement said much for Sullivan’s mindset. And it also gave reason for pause a couple of days later, when Sullivan reversed his decision and took the Cards’ coordinator job.
Arizona’s offense has been entrusted to a man who believes in taking shots 10 yards (or more) down the field, a man who thinks that if his offense can score 40 points a game, it doesn’t matter what his team’s defense does.
That point of view seems at odds with a franchise that has compiled its best offensive players on the line and at running back.
Anyone who thought a combination of the Big Red Line and Emmitt Smith was going to mean the Cards were simply going to grind out yards is simply mistaken.
“As the head coach reminded him,” quarterback coach Geep Chryst said, chuckling, “ ‘You have to run the ball once or twice.’ ”
Sullivan, 59, has never been a coordinator. He has spent his career shaping receivers. The passing game is practically a religion to him. There is only one way to run a route — the right way. His way.
Sullivan is credited with the development of players such as Tony Martin, Germane Crowell and most recently, David Boston. Sullivan could have gone elsewhere to teach his craft after his contract ran out following the 2002 season. Bill Parcells wanted him in Dallas. Mike Martz wanted him in St. Louis. The Cardinals wanted him badly. The organization had an idea by January that Boston would not return. With a receiving corps stocked with young receivers, Arizona couldn’t afford for Sullivan to get away.
Coach Dave McGinnis and the Bidwill family went after Sullivan hard, offering the promotion. McGinnis didn’t let up even after Sullivan had said no.
“A big part of what I wanted was his energy, his demands, his attention to detail put upon the whole offense,” McGinnis said. “You can see how quickly he can develop a receiver. You can already see this offense, it is faster paced.”
Sullivan has a much harder edge than Rich Olson, the man who held the job the past two seasons. Sullivan is vocal. He will get in a player’s face, especially a young player. But there is always a reason.
“My love is teaching, and you are teaching a bigger picture (as a coordinator),” Sullivan said. “What makes good coaching, I think, are people that know how to teach specifics, because I think specifics win the game for you.”
Originally, Sullivan said one of his fears about taking the coordinator’s job was that he wouldn’t have time to be as detailed as he normally likes to be.
He apparently has found enough hours in the day.
“Jerry is very precise,” tight end Freddie Jones said. “He wants us to run things the way he wants them.”
Added Smith, “I know what (the offense) is capable of. I think we can be a very good offense . . . I do believe that.”
The plan is for Sullivan to start the season in the press box during games, although he admitted there may come a time when he asks McGinnis to return to the sideline.
The Cards will have to pass. The inexperience of the receivers will tempt defenses to stack the line. Opponents will likely dare the Cards to beat them in the air.
But remind Sullivan of the Twinkie comment, and he smiles. He promises he is learning to enjoy the entire scope of the offense — as long as it works. “If you get into the end zone,” Sullivan said, “it’s fun.”