The Arizona Cardinals head coaching search began shortly after the team hired new general manager Monti Ossenfort from the Tennessee Titans. With Ossenfort having a strong background in player personnel, the Cardinals don’t need to prioritize as much scouting experience in their coaching candidates as other teams might. Entering Super Bowl 57 week, we’ve learned the Cardinals have narrowed their coaching finalists down to a group of three candidates.
Each of the final three candidates has their own strengths and weaknesses. We’ll look at the résumés and critical factors that could play into deciding whether they get the job. The final three candidates are Steelers assistant head coach and linebackers coach Brian Flores, Giants offensive coordinator (OC) Mike Kafka, and Bengals defensive coordinator (DC) Lou Anarumo.
Cardinals Head Coaching Search Update
Several occurrences have gotten the Cardinals to this list of finalists. Cowboys DC Dan Quinn returned to his position in Dallas, and Sean Payton agreed to go to Denver. Both had interviewed for this opening. Plus, the Cardinals opted to no longer consider incumbent DC Vance Joseph, Lions DC Aaron Glenn, and Bengals OC Brian Callahan.
Brian Flores, Steelers LB Coach
It’s not surprising to see Flores be involved in several of the openings this offseason. His three-year stint in Miami went relatively well, considering he took over a team devoid of talent at the start of a rebuild. Flores helped create a more competent franchise, especially on defense, before being fired and suing the NFL for discrimination.
There were certainly issues under Flores despite the fan base liking him.
He struggled mightily to recruit and keep a competent offensive coordinator to help lead the development of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Flores went through four offensive coordinators in three seasons and didn’t see eye-to-eye with the front office on Tagovailoa. His defense was also manhandled by every good offense they faced.
Despite overachieving with a 24-25 record, the other factors matter too. The fact Miami quickly revamped their offense around Tagovailoa after firing Flores for Mike McDaniel was a tough look for Flores. It’s not uncommon for first-time head coaches to do better in their second opportunity after they’ve had the chance to reflect on their missteps.
Arizona, like Miami, has an active ownership that puts pressure on its personnel. Can Flores survive and get along with others? Being only one year removed from his failure might not be enough time, or it might be just enough.
If the Cardinals feel they can get along with Flores and he can give Kyler Murray a quality OC, then he could be a great hire. If not, the 41-year-old could burn out within a year in Arizona.
Mike Kafka, Giants Offensive Coordinator
Kafka is one of my favorite young head coaching candidates. Not only has he spent time under two of the league’s best offensive architects in Andy Reid and Brian Daboll, but also two strong leaders who have experience in building a strong staff.
Kafka has only one season of play-calling under his belt, but he could be Arizona’s version of Bengals coach Zac Taylor. Taylor was hired maybe a year before he was truly ready. He struggled to implement his offensive philosophy right away into the Bengals’ franchise, but adding Joe Burrow and other key playmakers helped in the following seasons.
Nevertheless, Taylor clearly built a strong infrastructure and had the traits needed to develop into a solid coach, even if his youth led to an adjustment period. Kafka appeared to be a problem-solver by nature in his time with the Giants. He helped get the most out of an injury-ravaged, young set of personnel.
Working with Murray is far more preferable than Daniel Jones, but the Cardinals have similar talent deficiencies across their offense. Kafka will need to retool the receiving corps, running back position, and offensive line over the coming years.
Giving Murray another offensive-minded coach can give the offense its highest-possible upside. Can Kafka put together a good enough staff to develop a roster that desperately needs an injection of talent?
Lou Anarumo, Bengals Defensive Coordinator
Along with Kafka, Anarumo is among my favorite coordinators based on what they’ve accomplished on the field. However, unlike Flores and Kafka, Anarumo is older, turning 57 later this year. He’s been a defensive backs coach for the majority of his career until earning the DC job in Cincinnati in 2019.
With a wide-ranging career that includes 20 years of collegiate coaching, Anarumo has a history of getting the most out of the talent he’s in charge of. He developed several playmakers as the DBs coach with the Miami Dolphins from 2012-2017 and has built a stellar defense in Cincinnati despite lacking star talent. Arizona could desperately use that ability on their defense.
Cincinnati’s defense has been elite over the last two years. They ranked sixth in scoring in 2022 after coming into their own over the back half of 2021 en route to a Super Bowl appearance.
The Bengals famously have a lack of scouting and personnel resources for their coaches as well, meaning Anarumo likely will benefit from his own experiences in a start-up-like environment that requires more from their coaches than the normal workplace.
Does Anarumo have a solid plan for maximizing Murray and maintaining a healthy relationship with him? Defensive coaches can hold their quarterbacks responsible in a different way because they’re not directly coaching them daily. However, there’s more pressure to find and maintain a strong coordinator situation on that side of the ball since Anarumo would be overlooking the defense.
If he can answer those questions, Anarumo might be ready to be more than a career coordinator.