On Monday, a tearful Bruce Arians kicked off 2018 by walking away from the Arizona Cardinals in an emotional press conference, preceded nearly 24 hours by an emotional announcement to his team that he was leaving. It’s a testament to Arians that his team would keep the news quiet, especially in the social media-centric culture we have today.
Arians would appreciate the Cardinals approach to filling his void, because Michael Bidwell and Steve Keim are clearly taking a “next man up” approach, having already vetted various candidates and submitted requests to interview various coordinators. Their last search, back in 2013, led them to Arians, who would win 50 games for the Cardinals in his five years in the desert.
It would not be surprising to see a similar fit from a personality standpoint, and if the Cards can get half the coach that Arians was they’ll be in good shape moving forward. So much of this roster’s future remains unknown, with Carson Palmer potentially retiring and Larry Fitzgerald very much on the fence depending on who takes over.
The division is dangerous and there is uncertainty at quarterback; both factors make this a tough job to take over. But working for Keim and Bidwell is a good spot and there is plenty of young talent on this roster, including superstars on both side of the ball (David Johnson, Patrick Peterson, Chandler Jones).
Matt Patricia, DC, Patriots
For whatever reason, this strikes me as a good fit. Arians was great in Arizona because Arians gave no bleeps about anything. Not entirely sure that Patricia fits the same bill (no one can be Arians), but something about his beard and his general Belichickian approach to appearance strikes me as a fit. Maybe I’m way off. Regardless, the guy can coach, having worked as Belichick’s right-hand man on defense since 2012. If I’m plugging Patricia into a franchise, I want to pair him with a strong GM and give him some experience on the offensive side of things. The Cardinals could find him a veteran quarterback, convince Fitzgerald to come back, assuming Palmer is retiring and start to draft and develop someone in the same offseason to set things up well. Defensively, there is a ton to work with, thanks to Jones (who played for Patricia previously), Peterson (a lockdown corner), Tyrann Mathieu, Hassan Reddick, Deone Buchanon and Robert Nkemdiche. Patricia’s plan for hiring around him would be critical. The Cardinals have already requested an interview with Patricia.
James Bettcher, DC, Cardinals
On the other hand, maybe the young, talented defensive coach the Cardinals are looking for is already on the payroll. Bettcher, who is just 39 years old, filled the role of defensive coordinator for Arians after Todd Bowles took the Jets coaching gig. He is hardly the hottest name in coaching circles, but the Cardinals have an advantage in knowing more about him than most coaches out there. Andy Benoit of TheMMQB.com, who wrote a nice profile of Bettcher here, believes Bettcher would bring an A-list group of coordinators if he landed a head coaching gig. Recently fired Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who first hired Bettcher in Indianapolis, would probably get strong defensive coordinator consideration. Bettcher’s defenses were top-10 in yards allowed all three years with Arizona, especially impressive this past year when the team got off to a cold start and got little help from the offense due to injuries. An in-house candidate is often a weird thing in the NFL, but Arians retired, so there’s no concerns about keeping around someone from the old staff that was just fired.
Steve Wilks, DC, Panthers
The blitz-happy coordinator from Carolina would also fit the bill if the Cardinals want to go in the defensive direction. Wilks, a Charlotte native, spent the past six years coaching his hometown team, including the last three as assistant head coach and 2017 as the defensive coordinator after Sean McDermott left for the Bills job. Wilks drastically changed the Panthers approach on defense this year, blitzing far more frequently and finding a lot of success with the attacking style. The Cardinals have traditionally been a blitz-happy defense, so the personnel and coach could be a fit in that regard. Wilks’ Panthers defense ranked seventh in yards allowed and 11th in points allowed this season. Carolina also ranked third in the NFL with 50 sacks this season; the Cardinals ranked 17th with 44. Wilks will be a sought-after candidate this offseason and likely will be targeted by the Giants and Bears as well. Wilks was the guy who ran the Panthers the past few years whenever Ron Rivera was forced to leave the team (his brother’s death as one example).
John DeFilippo, QB coach, Eagles
DeFilippo is already on the list of names the Cardinals plan to interview, and it shouldn’t be surprising considering the success Carson Wentz had this past season, making a massive leap from his rookie year to his second season in 2017. Wentz was a viable MVP candidate and as a result DeFilippo is drawing “heavy interest” around the league for his work with the young quarterback. Quarterbacks win in the NFL and a good young coach who can sprinkle MVP dust on a first-round pick is the hottest commodity in the NFL right now, largely thanks to the work done by Sean McVay with Jared Goff. Keim has reportedly had DeFilippo on his radar “forever,” which could make this an opportunity to really hone in on the quarterbacks coach in an offseason that will feature plenty of competition for top candidates.
Jim Schwartz, DC, Eagles
Another guy who would be a great fit to follow in Arians footsteps, if only from a personality standpoint. Schwartz is often remembered for a vigorous handshake exchange with former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, but anyone not paying attention to his work the last few years is missing out. The Eagles have had one of the best defensive lines in football the past few years and while the personnel helps, Schwartz has a lengthy history of creating dominant defensive lines (the Lions were a terror when he was there with Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril emerging as standout talents). Schwartz probably doesn’t get enough credit for dragging the Lions out of the cellar either — he took over a winless Lions team and had them in the playoffs within three years. The Lions don’t go to the playoffs very often, folks. Schwartz has produced a top-five defense in both yards and points at three different stops as a defensive coordinator (Tennessee, Buffalo and Philadelphia).
Pat Shurmur, OC, Vikings
Another guy the Cardinals have requested an interview with. Shurmur gets a bad rap because of his work coaching the Browns — he won only nine games in two years as Cleveland’s coach, which feels like winning the Super Bowl in 2017. Related: people should really stop volunteering to coach the Browns. Shurmur did excellent work under Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, helping to engineer one of the NFL’s top offenses in both 2013 and 2014. He left for Minnesota after Kelly was fired (he was interim coach for the final week of 2015) and really caught the eyes of people around the league with the Vikings producing an impressive offensive designed around Case Keenum following Sam Bradford’s Week 1 injury. Minnesota lost Bradford and rookie running back sensation Dalvin Cook and continues to chug right along on offense. That could be particularly appealing to the Cardinals with a lack of weapons on the offensive side — if the defense can stay at its current level, Shurmur could build the offense around David Johnson and bring in enough weapons to really get the offense cranked up again. Fitzgerald might be swayed into returning with an offensive guy running the show as well.
Todd Bowles, HC, Jets
This feels highly unlikely after the Jets rewarded Bowles with a contract extension following an impressive five-win season (how often do you get to say THAT?), but it’s at least worth noting he has a long history with the Cardinals and maybe they would be willing to swing some sort of trade with the Jets that brings Bowles back to Arizona. Again, unlikely, but his defenses were highly successful there, the New York media market is not exactly delightful and he is an Arians protege. It might make sense to bridge the gap. Say whatever you want about Bowles record, but his coaching job with the Jets in 2017 was impressive.