The Arizona Cardinals were widely expected to fire head coach Kliff Kingsbury on Black Monday, and they did just that today. Kingsbury, who signed an extension in March 2022 that was supposed to keep him in Arizona through 2027, is now out of a job, and general manager Steve Keim is stepping away as well. With Kingsbury gone, let’s take a look at the potential list of Cardinals head coach candidates as their search gets underway.
5 Head Coach Candidates the Cardinals Should Consider
Kingsbury, who made the leap to the NFL after being fired by Texas Tech in 2018, improved the Cardinals’ record over each of his first three seasons and managed a playoff berth in 2021. But the 2022 campaign turned into a 4-13 disaster, highlighted by Kyler Murray’s December ACL tear.
How attractive is the Arizona job? The club can boast a young quarterback and a decent chunk of available cap space, but there’s not much talent elsewhere on the roster, and the NFC West is a tough division. It’s not the least appealing head coaching vacancy on the market, but it’s not the most alluring, either.
With that in mind, here are five candidates the Cardinals should take a look at as they begin their head coaching search.
Shane Steichen, Eagles Offensive Coordinator
There may not have been a more impressive offensive coach in the NFL over the past two seasons than Shane Steichen, who helmed a run-heavy Eagles unit in 2021 before helping turn Jalen Hurts into an MVP candidate in 2022.
Steichen, a Chargers assistant from 2014-20 who served as Justin Herbert’s coordinator during his Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign, has crafted a Philadelphia offense that creates weekly game plans tailored to their specific opponents. The Eagles are just as comfortable airing it out as they are rushing for 200+ yards — they find a weakness and repeatedly exploit it.
Murray doesn’t have the calm pocket presence that Hurts displays, but they’re otherwise relatively similar quarterbacks. If the goal is to get Murray back on track, Steichen might be Arizona’s best choice.
Ben Johnson, Lions Offensive Coordinator
Ben Johnson has only been the Lions’ offensive coordinator for a season and change, but he’s already developed an incredibly impressive unit. Under Johnson’s leadership, Detroit’s offense finished fifth in points and yards per play and sixth in expected points added per play.
The Rams gave up on Jared Goff, but Johnson and Co. rehabilitated the former No. 1 overall pick’s career and guided him to a top-10 finish in QB efficiency. Detroit deployed every rushing concept known to man, and Johnson proved himself a creative play-caller week in and week out.
Johnson is only 36 years old, but he’s been in the NFL for over a decade. If he can convince the Cardinals he’d be able to assemble a veteran staff (especially on defense), Jonhson could emerge as an excellent candidate.
Vance Joseph, Cardinals Defensive Coordinator
If the Cardinals want to stay in house, they already have a former NFL head coach on staff in Vance Joseph. Indeed, Arizona intends to give Joseph a “long look” for their head coaching position, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, who indicates Joseph is “very respected in the building.”
Joseph produced an 11-21 record as the Broncos head coach. By most accounts, he wasn’t ready for a top job after spending just one season as a defensive coordinator, and he struggled with game and clock management issues.
However, many head coaches improve on those mechanics during their second go-round. Joseph is reportedly an excellent communicator whose interpersonal skills have been praised by J.J. Watt and other veteran players.
Joseph’s defense couldn’t keep up the pace it set in 2021, when the unit finished sixth in DVOA, but Arizona isn’t exactly flush with defensive talent. If he takes the job, Joseph would need to be sure he can line up an innovative mind on the offensive side of the ball.
Leslie Frazier, Bills Defensive Coordinator
Buffalo’s defense ranked fourth in DVOA in 2022 and has finished in the top 12 in each of the four previous seasons. No team has allowed fewer points than the Bills (575) since the start of the 2021 campaign. Leslie Frazier is a significant part of that effort, even if head coach Sean McDermott also plays a prominent role in the Bills’ defensive strategy.
Frazier posted just a 21-32-1 record as the Vikings’ head coach from 2010-13, but he’s ready for another chance at a top job. He interviewed with the Colts in 2018 and almost landed the Texans’ head coaching slot in 2021. Last year, Frazier met with the Bears, Dolphins, and Giants.
Like Joseph, Frazier would need to find a coordinator that matches his ability on the other side of the ball. Frazier has witnessed how Buffalo’s staff has gotten the most out of a mobile quarterback in Josh Allen, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he brought Bills quarterback coach Joe Brady with him to Arizona.
Sean Payton, Former Saints Head Coach
Sean Payton may have his eye on other NFL vacancies, and given that he can probably land any job he wants, the Cardinals might not be at the top of his list.
Still, the fact that Steve Keim is also leaving Arizona might put Payton in play. Payton will almost assuredly want personnel control at his next stop. Even if he doesn’t assume a general manager title, he’ll likely get to choose his top lieutenant in the front office.
With Keim gone, the Cardinals could present Payton with the opportunity to remake their franchise as something of a football overlord.
But the lack of talent on Arizona’s roster is probably off-putting to Payton, who is unlikely to join a pending rebuild. Plus, the prospect of sending a first-round pick to the Saints might be off the table for the Cardinals, given that they’ll need all the assets they can find to improve their talent base.