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New Cardinals coach Gannon has right words; results will define his Arizona tenure

Howard Balzer Avatar
February 17, 2023

If it were only that easy. That’s the takeaway from Jonathan Gannon’s introduction to the Phoenix area Thursday morning as Cardinals coach.

There’s no doubt that Gannon “won” the press conference with his energy and “JG-isms” that owner Michael Bidwill referred to.

The reality, of course, is that there’s never been a game won in a press conference. Words can motivate, but they don’t win games, especially in the 17-game intense grind of an NFL season where a play here, a play there along with untimely injuries can blow up a season.

Gannon arrives in the desert from Philadelphia after losing in the Super Bowl four days ago, which was the culmination of a season in which the Eagles (and Chiefs) were remarkably healthy. They had seven players on reserve lists when the season ended with only one a starter. “Next man up” was rarely heard in those parts during the 2023 season.

That subject, of course, wasn’t mentioned Thursday, even when Gannon and Bidwill extolled the virtues of “elite” quarterback Kyler Murray, whose health will be a large part of determining how successful this team will be in the next few years. Gannon was enthusiastic about some of the pieces in place that will enable him to carry out his vision of being “adaptable, explosive, violent and smart,” while the status of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was also overlooked.

It’s no secret that many of the 23 games the Cardinals won in the last three seasons came when Murray and Hopkins were healthy and a large number of the 28 losses were without one of them or both or each playing hurt.

Minor details when the changing of the guard is being celebrated.

This is not to suggest that Hopkins is irreplaceable. However, his departure would add to the long list of holes on the roster, which now can finally be evaluated with 11 days until the Combine and the league year beginning March 15.

When Bidwill was asked why he believes Gannon is the right fit, he said, “I think he came in with a vision and plan. The vision aligned with where we want to be. It’s the view that he had of our elite quarterback, getting him back to being the playmaker that he is, making sure we build around him and put our players in positions, especially Kyler as our quarterback, to really get after it.”

Gannon acknowledged that the hiring of an offensive coordinator is crucial going forward. Not to mention the quarterbacks and offensive line coach.

“I have a very specific vision of how I want to play on offense,” he said. “And the person that comes in here to run the offense is going to understand that everything that we do will be structured around the quarterback position to maximize his skillset. And we have an elite one.

“We also have some elite players at different positions already on the roster that I’m very excited to work with, and that’s what we’re going to do. Just an overall general philosophy of being adaptable, we’re going to maximize Kyler’s skill set. We’re going to be adaptable; we’re going to generate explosives; we’re going to protect the football and be situationally smart.”

When asked the challenge of planning for the season, not knowing when Murray will be available to practice and play, Gannon said, “Obviously, I played against Kyler this year and it was a unique game plan to put together because of his skill set. I use the term, ‘He’s a problem to defend because of what he can do.’ He’s a legit problem for defenses. He has a very unique skillset and that’s what I’m looking forward to. Working with him and showing him, ‘Hey, this is how defenses are going to try to stop you. Here’s what you need to be ready for.’ These are the things that we’re going to do with him that’s going to help him move all the way up and down the field, score a bunch of points, be explosive and protect the football.

“With the offseason, we’ll put together a plan. I like some people that are here already, but we’re going to do everything that we can (in free agency and the draft) to put the best product on the field. We’re going to turn over all those stones because that’s the main goal is (to) put the best thing that we can out on the field.”

And perhaps burn a few candles praying that when Murray returns, his seven injuries in four seasons with five to his legs will be behind him.

He will be trying to put the best on the field in collaboration with general manager Monti Ossenfort, whose era could very well be defined by this hire. It’s clear there would be no decision on a coach until there was the chance to talk to Gannon and as it obviously turned out, that couldn’t happen until after the Super Bowl.

It’s also clear that Gannon was likely Ossenfort’s guy all along.

He explained, “Last year, I had an opportunity to interview for a couple general manager jobs. When I went into those job (interviews) and they would ask me who I wanted to talk to for potential head coach openings, I would have my list of names. I sat across the desk, and I would think, ‘Man, here’s a person I’m presenting that I think would be a good head coach.’ There were a lot of times where it was just a name and I had not talked to people. I had not had conversations with those people, so it was important for me last summer as part of a professional development process that I went through, that I wanted to reach out and start talking to potential head coaches.

“I’ve been in the league for a little north of 20 years, and you form relationships. People suggest, ‘Hey, I think you should talk to this guy,’ or people recommend (guys). You hear great things, and I was able to do that. I had a lot of great conversations. I talked to a lot of potential head coaches, and one of them was Jonathan. That was the first time I had talked to him. I had also talked to multiple other coaches. Some that we had a chance to interview, and some that we didn’t. It was a great learning experience for me, and it was one that really helped me as I embarked on this process here over the last five weeks.

“Ultimately, our process led us to Jonathan. Jonathan’s energy when he entered our room; it was non-stop from the beginning. All the more impressive (with him) coming off the Super Bowl just hours before he stepped into our room. Jonathan’s vision for our organization matched up well with the vision that we envisioned for the Cardinals organization. His reputation as a leader. His ability to connect to players, to staff, to the rest of his coaches. His ability to work with a personnel department and provide a vision for the type of players that we’re going to go out and seek. It was apparent that Jonathan shared a lot of the same values that I value and that Michael values.”

Numerous players were in the team auditorium Thursday, including Murray, tight end Zach Ertz, tackle D.J. Humphries, guard Will Hernandez, wide receivers Rondale Moore and Antoine Wesley, running back James Conner, quarterback Colt McCoy and cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. Hernandez and Murphy are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in 27 days.

“It means a lot to me that the players are here and I’ve connected with a lot of these guys already,” Gannon said. “You’re going to hear me say a lot: the players; just because of the seat I’m in, they have to understand and know that you care about them as people first before players. You’ll hear me say servant leadership a lot. Michael and I connected on servant leadership because we’re both Jesuit educated, but I truly believe that. That’s what we’re here to do.

“We had a welcome party this morning and everybody in this building, no matter what job they do for the Cardinals, whether you’re the offensive coordinator, the ticket sales manager, or the marketing director, you have a specific role to serve the players that we have for us. Everyone has to be on board with that because the players’ job is to maximize themselves and it’s our job to get them to maximize themselves and hit their ceilings.”

It’s also notable that Gannon has three years of experience as a scout, coincidentally when he and Cardinals national scout John Mancini were with the St. Louis Rams. Gannon mentioned that Mancini, who was also at the press conference, “taught me how to scout back in the day. I was on the personnel side for three years and it gave me a different view of the game. Now ultimately, I love working with the players and the schematics of the game. That’s why I wanted to get back into coaching, but it gave me a bird’s eye view of how that operation runs. Why the personnel side and the scouts that are going on school calls are so vital to a team’s success because I did that.

“I feel like I learned how to evaluate players as I was going through that process. I was a college scout for two years and a pro scout for one; (they) know the league better than anyone else. That was my job description of when I was a pro scout, so when you do that, you have a very specific vision of what you want in a player as it relates to the scheme. Then you have a very specific vision of the makeup of the players that you want. I know Monti and Michael have heard me say this multiple times: Everybody that we bring in here or that is here or that will be a Cardinal, will have elite football character because you will not hit your ceiling if you don’t have that. What I mean by that is you have to be team first and that’s how we’re going to build this team.”

There were only three first-time head coaches hired in this head coaching cycle in the NFL: Gannon, DeMeco Ryans to Houston and Shane Steichen, who was Gannon’s counterpart on offense with the Eagles, to the Colts.

The truth is, that no matter how much everyone believes their hire was the best fit, the future is totally unknown. Still, the Cardinals have every chance of proving this one right.

Now, the hard work begins where actions will surely speak louder than words.

The World According to JG

Bidwill referred to Gannon’s communication skills when he said, “You’ve already heard some of the phrases. He’s talked about team first. If it’s going to be, it’s up to me. ‘Rip’ is a verb that he used about 12 different ways I think during the interview. (As Bidwill was saying that, Gannon was heard saying, “Buckle up.”) We started to understand these ‘JG-isms’ by the end of the interview process.

Here’s a sampling:

“My father is no longer living, but he taught (me) from a very young age, it’s not about you, it’s about the team, and that if you’re going to do something you’ve got to go all in and give 100 percent. A lot of values that I hold with me very dearly were passed down from my parents.”

“We’re going to be adaptable; we’re going to be violent, we’re going to be explosive, and we’re going to be smart. All three phases go into that, and we will maximize the talents of the players that we have. That’s how we’re going to win games, and don’t get it twisted; we’re going to win games.”

On what being adaptable means: “It’s everything to me. The game continually changes and adapts, and the game that’s in 2023 is not going to look like it was this year. That’s because coaches are smart. I famously said a line back when I first took over as a defensive coordinator of Philly, that I don’t have a scheme. People were very uncomfortable with that, and I was not because I don’t believe in a scheme. I believe in putting the players that we have in positions to be successful, so we are going to look different week to week predicated on who we have playing and who we are playing. I think that you have to be ever-evolving, adaptable and have a growth mindset to stay ahead of the curve or you will get beat. That’s what I mean by adaptable.”

He added, “We’re going to use guys’ skillsets to present matchup problems. That’s adaptability. When I talk about adaptability, I’m talking about our people in mind first and then who we’re playing. It’s a little bit of a chess match with the schematics of how you need to do that all while keeping it simple for your guys so we can go out and play fast and be violent. We’re going to maximize those guys and use them in ways that give us the best chance to win.”

On the challenge ahead: “I would say that any job I’ve ever taken, there’s always a big-time challenge ahead of you. I’ve succeeded in all those starting from the ground floor of the business all the way up until this seat. What I don’t know about the job, I’ll figure out fast and I’ll lean on the people that I can trust and lean on. We’re going to get it rolling.”

On what he said that won him the job: “You can ask them what I said to get the job, but I would say this: I tell our players this all the time and I do believe you can’t just tell players one thing and not live it yourself. I believe in being where your feet are. I don’t live in the past. I don’t live in the future. I live in the present, so (I had to) compartmentalize on Monday morning to get up and talk to Michael and Monti. That’s what I did.

“I obviously had prepped for that opportunity for a long, long time. Basically, I did not have a book (and) I didn’t have a piece of paper. I had one note card. I showed Michael my call sheet from the Super Bowl and said, ‘This is how I do things. I write it by hand.’ Ultimately, we talked about what was in my brain, what was in my heart, and it led me to this seat right now.”

On his mentors, going back years ago to most recently: “My head football coach at St. Ignatius (High School) just retired; Coach (Chuck) Kyle. He wrote a book called ‘The Object of the Game,’ and I think it’s a manual that you can take anywhere and get a team running the right way.

“(Eagles head coach) Nick Sirianni for the last two years really prepped me to be a head coach. I truly believe that. I told him before I walked out of the building. We’re obviously friends because we worked together in Indy, but he was my boss in Philly for two years. He was extremely hard on me and extremely detailed. He’s detail oriented, but he always had my back and he let me in on a lot of things of how he was running the team and the why behind it. He gave me a very easy blueprint, which I will put my spin on, but he gave me the blueprint to how to be a head coach. For these last two years, especially this last year, I was fully confident that I could do this job, so I appreciate him for that.”

On how to get player accountability in the locker room: “You guys don’t have the time for me to answer that question, with everything that we’re going to do here. Player accountability is, is simply this: you have to define what winning behavior is and hold people to that standard. It’s as easy as that. It’s your daily actions with what you’re doing on a daily basis to improve yourself as a player and as a team. Accountability is just not a negative. It’s a positive too. So, when people do the right thing, that shows that’s winning behavior. You’re going to see that our guys, we’re going to love them up. As hard we’re going to be on our guys, we’re going to love them up even more.

“That’s how you win games. I think that ultimately we’re going to show them the way that we want things done. The players sitting here right now are going to take it over because the ultimate accountability comes from not wanting to let your teammate down and how you’re going about your business. So, there are a lot of different ways to get that done and I look forward to doing that with our guys. That’ll be one of the major things that we hold our hat on.”

On his perception of the organization before Monday and if it matched up with what he believed once he arrived: “Very easy for me. One, I don’t care about people’s opinions. I really don’t, besides the people that I’m working with and the players. I don’t hear any outside noise. I don’t pay attention to it because if you do that, then you’re not really being where your feet are. You’re letting other people’s opinions drive your own feelings and emotions, so I don’t do that. When I came in here and interviewed, I had a very open mind, and I used the interview to explain my vision. I really wanted to see if my vision for running a team matched up with Michael’s and Monti’s, and it did. It became very clear and evident before I was supposed to fly back where I said, ‘I want to stay for dinner.’ — and I ended up staying for dinner — that I wanted this job.”

On if he had any questions about the organization and the team before taking the job and what he found out:

“I obviously did research on this job. The timing of it was a little different, I would say because I didn’t know that I was going to interview for this job until after we got done playing. The NFL’s a small world and you can talk to a couple people that you trust. Everyone has those people in their corner, and you hear their opinions about things and maybe negatives or positives about that. Everything that I heard, the research that I did coming here about the players or the people that I was going to be working for was all positive. Ultimately though, when I got in the room on Monday and then Tuesday I (decided) I’m going to trust my gut and my gut said, ‘Get this job and take this job.’ That’s what I did.”

On the roller coaster of emotions he’s felt over the last few weeks and whether this could be a lesson in life as a head coach in the NFL: “Yeah, it is. In Philadelphia, we use the term ‘dog mentality’ and that basically is what I mean by ‘be where your feet are.’ It’s next-play (mentality). It doesn’t matter if you had a good play in the first quarter, or if you had a bad play in the first quarter. You have to move on and all you need to be locked in is on the next play. It’s the same for coaches. As much energy and passion as I have for what I do, there is a point where; I tell our players this all the time, where you have to be emotionally stable because as high as the highs, if you ride the highs, you’re going to ride the lows. You really want to be somewhere in (the middle) there. We are going to be energetic here. We’re going to be passionate about what we do.”

On what he loves about football after playing other sports growing up: “Nothing compares to a football game in the world. Maybe seeing your babies born, but that’s about it. There’s nothing like running out of the tunnel. There’s really not. You guys know that. There’s not too many things you can do in this world that gets your emotions and adrenaline pumping like a football game does. Then when you work back from that, the process that needs to take place, the daily routine that needs to take place to give yourself a chance to have success and to win a game is just awesome. You’ve got to really fall in love with the process. You’ll hear me talk about it, and these players are going to hear me talk about it. When you start to be results oriented, you’re not going to win. You have to be process driven and it’s what you do on a daily basis that gets the results that you want. That’s what I would say. I first fell in love with basketball. My coaches made me run track to become a better football player. I don’t know if I enjoyed track. I did love playing hoops, but nothing compares to a football game. Hopefully you guys have seen that. The genuineness of I do believe it’s about the team first. It’s the ultimate team game and that’s why I love being a football coach.

“I’ve never worked a day in my life since I started in football because it’s fun to me. It’s what I enjoy, it’s what I love. I don’t think of it as a job. So, have an energy and passion to come in, interview and talk about doing this. Or when it gets to Week 3 in training camp when everyone’s maybe a little bit tired and a little bit hot. I don’t really pay attention to those external factors. I’m committed to doing my job the best that I can with a lot of energy and enthusiasm about it. So just really looking forward to getting with the players because that’s what this job’s all about. That’s the secret sauce of these things, are the players.”

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

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