A day after wrapping up a disappointing 4-13 season, the Arizona Cardinals fired head coach Kliff Kingsbury on Monday. Meanwhile, general manager Steve Keim has stepped down from his post for health-related reasons, the team said in a statement announcing both moves.
Kingsbury amassed a 28-37-1 record in four seasons, with just one playoff appearance (2021). Since starting the 2021 season 10-2, Kingsbury’s Cardinals have won just five games, causing Cardinals brass to sour on a head coach they extended through 2027 last March.
“I do think it was the right decision,” said Mike Tannenbaum, former front office executive for the Jets and Dolphins and analyst for The 33rd Team. “They have never been in the top 10 in scoring since Kliff has been there. Since quarterback Kyler Murray is under contract, I would want somebody that has a detailed plan to make him successful and to get the most out of the offense. This team is a ways away, and they need to start with a better offensive line.”
Added former Eagles and Browns front office executive Joe Banner: “The roster is old and built for the short term. Finding the next guy won’t be easy.”
The Cardinals have reported interest in talking to Vance Joseph about the opening. The former Broncos head coach is currently Arizona’s defensive coordinator.
Analyst Mitchell Schwartz of The 33rd Team is skeptical about whether candidates should be interested in the Cardinals’ job.
“I don’t know that it is super desirable,” Schwartz said. “Kyler just had surgery a week ago. I’m not going to bank on having Kyler at all this year (for the 2023 season), and if he does come back, I just don’t think he’s going to be the same. … I’m not sure as a head coach you look at that situation and be super psyched to go there.”
The 25-year-old Murray is currently rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in Week 14 against the New England Patriots. Prior to this season, Murray signed a 5-year, $230.5 million extension, including $160 million guaranteed.
When Murray was drafted in 2019 with the first overall pick, the Cardinals envisioned his uncommon skill set thriving in Kingsbury’s offense. The pairing proved fruitful for a time, as Murray was named to the Pro Bowl in both the 2020 and 2021 seasons. But as Murray’s play regressed this season, he and Kingsbury were seen frequently arguing on the sideline.
“You’ve got a franchise quarterback, who you signed for a lot of money for at least the next few years, and him and the head coach hate each other,” said analyst Joe Thomas of The 33rd Team. “It seems like it was an untenable situation.”
Any new coach coming in will no doubt be expected to have a better working relationship with the Cardinals’ franchise quarterback. Whether that comes in the form of a true quarterbacks coach or someone who can surround Murray with people the QB can trust is yet to be seen.
“I think they are likely going to make the mistake of looking for a head coach who can maximize the skills of Murray,” Banner said. “I would look for a great head coach and trust that he will find the right people to make the quarterback the best he can be.”
Keim took a health-related leave of absence in mid-December. In the interim, his duties were handled by VP of player personnel Quentin Harris and VP of pro personnel Adrian Wilson. The Cardinals will look for a new general manager for the first time since 2013.
Keim spent his entire NFL career with the Cardinals, starting as a regional scout in 1999 and working his way up to general manager, a post he has held since 2013. During his tenure, Arizona made its first Super Bowl and had five playoff appearances. After the 2014 season, the Sporting News named Keim its NFL executive of the year.
In July 2018, Keim pleaded guilty to extreme DUI charges that got him suspended for five weeks and drew a $200,000 fine from the team.
The 43-year-old Kingsbury is the latest collegiate head coach to be fired after a short-lived NFL tenure. Former Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule was let go earlier in the season in his third year on the job, while Jacksonville Jaguars former coach Urban Meyer lasted only one season in the NFL.
Rhule returned to the college ranks at Nebraska, where he was named head coach in late November, just a month after he was fired in Carolina. Kingsbury, who had a losing record (35-40) in six seasons as head coach at Texas Tech before being hired by the Cardinals, will likely draw similar interest from college teams because of his reputation as an innovative offensive mind. However, he might need to wait a year for teams to come calling, as all the significant NCAA Power-5 head coaching jobs have been filled.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are now on the hunt for the 43rd head coach in team history. They have never had a head coach last longer than six years since the team was founded in 1898.