Thursday, January 17, 2013
Initial thoughts as Cards hire Bruce Arians
By Mike Sando
Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will succeed Ken Whisenhunt as the Arizona Cardinals' head coach.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is not part of the deal, unfortunately. Finding a quarterback is the Cardinals' next top priority, one that will determine whether Arians ultimately fares better than Whisenhunt. Arizona holds the seventh pick in the 2013 NFL draft, and has under contract veteran quarterbacks Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley.
Arians comes to the Cardinals as the offensive-minded assistant they targeted almost without exception. Although he worked for the Colts most recently, Arians offers the same Pittsburgh Steelers pedigree Whisenhunt brought to the job back in 2007. He will run an offense with some similarities to the one Whisenhunt, Arians and the Pittsburgh staff ran when they worked together from 2004 through 2006, winning a Super Bowl. But Arians told reporters in Arizona that he has changed much of the terminology in ways allowing quarterbacks to generate a clearer picture of the offense in their minds.
Arians has succeeded Whisenhunt before, in Pittsburgh. He moved from receivers coach to offensive coordinator when Whisenhunt vacated the coordinator's position to accept the Cardinals' head-coaching job. Whisenhunt turned around the Cardinals quickly, posted a 4-2 postseason record and nearly defeated the Steelers in the Super Bowl following the 2008 season. The offense has deteriorated considerably since Kurt Warner's retirement, and Whisenhunt lost his job when a big bet on Kolb failed to produce desired results.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden also were candidates to succeed Whisenhunt. The mostly outstanding results Horton has gotten from the defense made him deserving of strong consideration. However, promoting Horton would have severely reduced the team's options for hiring an offensive staff. NFL rules allow teams to pursue assistants from other teams for head-coaching jobs, but not for other coaching jobs.
Arians' hiring has ramifications throughout the NFC West and beyond. It means every head-coaching position in the league is filled. The Seahawks will be keeping Bevell, who signed a new contract with the team, according to ESPN's John Clayton. The San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams also will not lose one of their coordinators or other assistants to a head-coaching job.
Arians and Horton worked together in Pittsburgh. The Cardinals will be best served if the two former co-workers make this relationship work, even though Horton could reasonably have some hard feelings after not getting the job. Horton's status will be an issue as long as he continues operating under his current contract, which runs through the 2013 season.
In the end, Arizona did not secure one of the big-name candidates such as Andy Reid or Chip Kelly. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Arians might wind up being a better fit than any of those other coaches. At first glance, however, it's fair to question whether the man who worked under Whisenhunt in Pittsburgh represents a clear upgrade from Whisenhunt. The Colts did go 9-3 with Arians serving as their head coach while Chuck Pagano underwent cancer treatments.
A case can be made that Whisenhunt's time in Arizona had run its course, anyway, and that a change was needed.
No coach will win in Arizona without improving the quarterback situation. Whisenhunt had his chance to improve that critical area, but he failed. The quarterbacks he acquired and developed too frequently got worse, not better. Now, it's Arians' turn.