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Cardinals history tells us patience is not a word in the Bidwills' vocabulary

Howard Balzer Avatar
January 10, 2023

I don’t know exactly when it was that Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill made the decision to induct his father, Bill, into the team’s Ring of Honor, but that might be the precise moment that the 2022 season went totally off the rails.

You know; karma and all that.

We do know the announcement that it would happen during halftime of the season opener came in August, a few days after one of the team’s former coaches, Don Coryell, had been named a finalist for the 2023 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His expected election will come later this month when the Hall’s selection committee votes on the entire 2023 group.

It’s important to note that Coryell’s departure when the team was in St. Louis came amid significant controversy that ended with Bill Bidwill changing the locks on the doors to Coryell’s office after he was fired.

With Monday’s firing of coach Kliff Kingsbury, a history lesson is important to show how the pattern of handling coaches still remains. Maybe it’s in the Bidwill DNA. Or, maybe it’s just the Cardinal way.

Despite Coryell’s coaching tenure ending 45 years ago, he incredibly remains the franchise’s third-winningest coach with 42 victories in five seasons.

The Cardinals were 4-9-1 in his first season, then 10-4, 11-3 and 10-4 in the next three. The first two produced NFC East titles, but with only one wild-card team at the time in each conference, they didn’t qualify for the playoffs in 1976.

The step back occurred the next season. A six-game winning streak led to a 7-3 record, but then the injuries began (sound familiar?) and the Cardinals lost their last four games to finish 7-7. The final defeat was especially embarrassing as it was Tampa Bay’s first home win in its two years of existence.

After losing their first 26 games, the Bucs had won their first game the week before in New Orleans.

After the first four seasons, including the playoffs, Coryell’s teams were 35-22-1. The regression sent him on his way, eventually to San Diego to coach the Chargers. Again, sound familiar?

Coryell had been an unconventional hiring, having had coaching experience only in college, and it went famously until there was no patience after a disappointing season.

Bill Bidwill went the unconventional way again, with the bizarre hiring of former Oklahoma coaching great Bud Wilkinson, who hadn’t coached in 15 years. With a record of 9-20, he was fired late in his second season because he refused pressure to bench quarterback Jim Hart and play Steve Pisarkiewicz, who had been a shocking first-round pick (19th overall) in 1977. It was later learned that Pisarkiewicz was drafted despite being blind in one eye.

Popular offensive line coach Jim Hanifan entered the picture in 1980. The Cardinals were 5-11, 7-9 and 5-4 in the 1982 strike season, then went 8-7-1 and 9-7, nearly making the playoffs in 1984. It was after that season when Bill started campaigning for a new stadium, an effort that lasted until 1988 when the team left for the Valley in a move approved by the league without a solid promise for a stadium to, you know, play their games. They played at Sun Devil Stadium for 19 seasons.

Oh, back to Hanifan. He lost offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower to the Colts after the 1985 season, where he lasted 29 games, there was a drug problem on the team and some key personnel left for the USFL. They went 5-11 and Bill changed the locks on the doors to the coaches offices at halftime of the home season finale and fired Hanifan in the locker room.

A great side story is that assistant coach Chuck Banker hurriedly left the locker room after the game to speak at a fan gathering. Not knowing what had transpired, he went back to the office later to retrieve Christmas presents, but was locked out. After being granted permission by Bill Bidwill, a security guard escorted Banker into the office to get the gifts.

The bottom line is that Hanifan was fired after a disappointing season that followed three with winning records. His 39 victories are fourth on the team’s all-time list.

Then, there’s the Ken Whisenhunt era that, like Hanifan, lasted six seasons and is the most by any coach in club history.

In Whisenhunt’s first season, the Cardinals were 8-8, then won division titles with 9-7 and 10-6 records and Kurt Warner at quarterback. There was a Super Bowl appearance in his second season, but after Warner retired, the record became 5-11, 8-8 and 5-11 and Whisenhunt was gone with a total of 49 wins, the second-most for a Cardinals head coach. That’s one win behind the franchise leader, Bruce Arians.

And now, here we are, with Kingsbury shown the door following three seasons of improvement from three wins in 2018 the year before he arrived to five, eight and 11.

The jettisoning of Kingsbury leaves him as only the eighth coach in club history to last four or five full seasons.

Michael Bidwill saw enough to grant long contract extensions to both Keim and Kingsbury 10 months ago, but will now embark on yet another reset.

Will defensive coordinator Vance Joseph be a candidate? Michael Bidwill told the media he will be while revealing he has already interviewed player personnel director Quentin Harris and pro personnel director Adrian Wilson for the vacant general manager job vacated by Steve Keim stepping away to concentrate on his health. Bidwill also said he has interviewed another GM candidate that he wouldn’t name.

If Joseph is hired, that could result in continuity if he would decide to retain up-and-coming offensive coaches Cam Turner and Spencer Whipple. If not, that will lead to new schemes to learn, especially on offense, where quarterback Kyler Murray won’t likely be able to practice them until at least October.

Bidwill said his preference is to hire a general manager first, but that it isn’t mandatory. He also claimed several times he would “cast a net far and wide” in the process. He also said a few times that the Cardinals were 12-2 at one point last season when it was actually 10-2.

We do know this: Michael Bidwill is eating an unknown amount of money of his own doing.

The Steelers have had three head coaches since 1969. Whoever the new coach will be for the Cardinals will be the seventh in 24 seasons since 2000. Not including an interim coach, the next coach will be the 11th in 36 seasons. That is not the way to have success in the NFL.

Bidwill did acknowledge the positive steps taken in the first three seasons of Kingsbury in charge, which led to him giving shocking contract extensions to him and Keim 10 months ago. He also mentioned how “injuries stacked up on us” and that “a lot of breaks didn’t go our way.”

However, when asked if he considered giving Kingsbury another year to get things back to where they were, he instead said there were hopes it would turn around this season. That was something made almost impossible by the never-ending cavalcade of injuries that, as a fitting end to the season, the team had so many players inactive they played two men short on Sunday against the 49ers.

That team’s ownership stuck with coach Kyle Shanahan through some tough times, especially after the 2020 season. The 49ers were 6-10 and 4-12 in Shanahan’s first two seasons, then were 13-3 in 2019 and advanced to the Super Bowl where they led 20-10 entering the fourth quarter before falling to the Chiefs, 31-20.

The following season, they slipped back to 6-10 in, yes, an injury-dominated season. Granted, there was a Super Bowl in one of the four seasons, but the combined record in the other three was 16-32. Still, ownership stayed the course and after this season’s 3-4 start, they won 10 consecutive games and are the NFC’s No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

Michael Bidwill believes that can happen, but raise your hand if you have confidence he will get it right this time. And even if it looks good at some point, will he be able to weather the storm if there is adversity along the way?

He said a few times Monday it was “time for a change.” That phrase has probably been uttered 40 times about head coaches in the team’s 103-season history.

Odds are, unless Bidwill finds a patience pill, they will be said again, and sooner, not particularly later.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me:

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