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For Some Coaches, A Return To Cardinals

Posted Feb 23, 2018

Brown, Merritt played for the team while Wilson back to coach 10 years later

New Cardinals offensive line coach Ray Brown does an interview Thursday at the team's Tempe facility.

Ray Brown was a Cardinal before, as a player, so long ago that the Tempe building that now houses his office wasn’t built yet.

The team’s new offensive line coach, who played 20 years in the NFL, started out as a 1986 eighth-round draft pick of the then-St. Louis Cardinals. He was still with the franchise when they moved to Arizona in 1988 and the team practiced at the closed-down East High School in Phoenix.

“I am still wrapping my mind around it,” Brown said. “Not only has the city grown but really the brand has really become something else. When we came out here in ’88, we didn’t know. The NFL in Phoenix and the state of Arizona, it was something new.

“Having played and coached in this league and watching from afar, to get the job back here? It’s stunning. This is a jewel in the NFL, it really is. I’m biased now, because I get to see it. I never would’ve thought.”

There is a Cardinals reunion aspect to the new coaching staff put together by Steve Wilks, beyond the handful of coaches retained from the previous staff of Bruce Arians. There is Brown, who retired as a player in 2005 and has been an NFL offensive line coach for the past 10 seasons. Defensive backs coach David Merritt was a linebacker with the Cardinals, playing 34 games in Arizona from 1993-95. Running backs coach Kirby Wilson returns to the same job he held from 2004-2006 when he was a member of Dennis Green’s staff.

Wilson’s first stint came at the forefront of the organization’s culture shift, not coincidentally when the team moved into its new stadium in 2006.

“So much work has gone into making this one of the best organizations in the NFL,” said Wilson, who coached running backs for the Steelers, Vikings (and Adrian Peterson) and Browns in between his Cardinals’ stints. “I respect that, not only as a coach but as a football fan, to see an organization come so far.

“I never really told a lot of people, but this was where I really wanted to be. I just didn’t tell anybody for obvious reasons, professional reasons. You just work and you keep your head down, but when I was offered a job here, my face lit up.”

Brown never saw the building when he played for the Cards, but Merritt did. His tenure was in a practice facility without a cafeteria, without a bubble, and a much smaller locker room and smaller weight room.

Those things still looked the same even after the 2007 season, when he was coaching with the Giants and the Giants spent Super Bowl week practicing at the Cardinals’ facility.

“Coming back here 10 years later, it’s like, ‘Whoa, man, what in the world did they do?’ ” Merritt said. “It’s on steroids. The building has gotten bigger.’ It’s amazing. I’m so excited to see this room (the cafeteria) fill up, because we didn’t have a room like this. Being one of the alums – and this is the team where I retired from – it’s really exciting for me.”

None of the previous tenures featured much success. That first Cardinals’ season in Arizona for Brown did open with a 7-4 record, but quarterback Neil Lomax got hurt and the team dropped its last five games. The mid-1990s Cardinals with Merritt and Green’s three years didn’t go anywhere – although Wilson, with the stadium coming online that last year, said he could see then the franchise would “turn real quick, real soon.”

“I told (GM) Steve (Keim) when I got hired, we have some unfinished business together to get this done this time,” Wilson said. “All I dream about is having that Lombardi (Trophy) placed in the front (lobby) when people walk in that door.”

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