With the last two Super Bowl hosts making and winning their respective Super Bowls, there were already a lot of eyes on Arizona this year. So when the Cardinals finished 4-13 in Kliff Kingsbury’s fourth season after making the playoffs under him for the first time last year, it was clear it wasn’t going to be good enough.
Kingsbury was fired the day after the regular season ended, opening the Cardinals coaching job. With Kyler Murray already entrenched and Arizona needing to enter an extremely expedited rebuild, the job — like any job — undoubtedly has its ups and downs.
Atop the list to replace Kingsbury is Sean Payton, who has already expressed interest in it alongside the Broncos job. Payton and Murray seem like an interesting fit, as the former Saints coach seemingly appears to end his coaching sabbatical.
But the list of candidates is going to be extensive. With Murray set to be involved in the search, it will probably require an offensive-minded coach. Sean McVay’s coaching tree appears to be running out of branches, so the Cardinals may find their options somewhat limited in that sense.
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Adding to the list of complications is GM Steve Keim leaving the organization to focus on his health, meaning the new coach would be inheriting a new GM as well. To some coaches, that could be considered a positive, but it’s fully dependent on who it is.
The Cardinals are an organization with a lot of moving parts, which could either attract or repel someone like Payton, who took on a similar situation with the Saints back in 2006. What they do have is a quarterback locked up. However, Arizona might not rush to find a new coach and focus on the GM position ahead of time.
The Cardinals haven’t formally requested interviews with any coaching candidates yet and appear to be prioritizing the GM job, at least in public. Here’s a list of people they may look at.
Sean Payton, former Saints coach
This list, for much of Arizona, likely begins and ends with Payton. The former Saints coach pulled New Orleans to relevance back in 2006 and won a Super Bowl, while keeping them competitive in years after. He will be the coach sought after by most of the league, but with him having expressed interest in the Cardinals already, he’s an easy fit. Payton’s offensive pedigree and player-friendly attitude should mesh well with a player like Murray, if the Cardinals are able to land him.
Update: The Cardinals have an interview with Payton, per NewOrleans.Football’s Nick Underhill.
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Jim Harbaugh, Michigan head coach
The Cardinals are a team for whom the list wouldn’t be complete without at least mentioning Harbaugh. As Harbaugh and Michigan get investigated for recruiting violations, rumors are kicking up around him for every head coaching vacancy. Harbaugh already has NFL experience in the division with the 49ers, so Arizona could at least kick the tires on one of the other more popular names on the market.
Brian Flores, Steelers senior defensive assistant
The Cardinals requested permission to interview Steelers senior defensive assistant and former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. Flores was passed over for head coaching jobs last offseason after filing a lawsuit against the NFL and three teams alleging discrimination, but he’s receiving interest as both a defensive coordinator candidate and now a head coaching candidate this offseason. Flores went 24-25 over three years in Miami, generally overachieving, and he would likely need to bring in a respected offensive coordinator to spark the Cardinals offense if he was hired by Arizona.
Vance Joseph, Cardinals defensive coordinator
It would be surprising to see the Cardinals go with a defensive-minded coach, but it’s hardly out of the realm of possibility for them to stay in-house. Vance Joseph is well-respected in the Cardinals building and has head coaching experience with the Broncos. While not a particularly likely pick given the needs from the Cardinals, It’s always a possibility depending on how the coaching carousel spins.
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Ben Johnson, Lions offensive coordinator
Ben Johnson is quite possibly the hottest new candidate on the market this side of DeMeco Ryans. He revitalized the Lions into one of the top overall offenses in the league with Jared Goff, who was largely thought to be a lame duck quarterback coming into the season.
UPDATE (Jan. 17): Ben Johnson is staying put at Detroit, according to Tom Pelissero.
Frank Reich, former Colts head coach
Frank Reich was fired as Colts head coach midseason after a 3-5 start. He is 40-33 as a head coach and went to the playoffs twice with Indy. However, Reich never won the AFC South. He previously served as the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Diego Chargers. He also served in various offensive capacities with the Colts early in his coaching career. Reich is known for his success in developing quarterbacks and leading high-powered offenses.