The decision was formed over weeks, although the final choice, Michael Bidwill said, didn’t come until Sunday night.
Then, on the heels of a third straight non-playoff season and watching the rest of the NFC West pull away from his Cardinals, Bidwill decided he needed to make a move with both his head coach and general manager. Monday, he fired both Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves.
“It was a tough conversation, a tough decision,” the team president said. “But it was something that, after the last three seasons, it was time. It came down to wins and losses and the direction this was going, and I felt it was time to make a change.”
In-house candidates exist for both spots. Whisenhunt said defensive coordinator Ray Horton will get an interview this week for the coaching job. Vice president of player personnel Steve Keim will be a candidate for the open general manager job.
Bidwill also said that he will have head coaching interviews with Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and former Eagles head coach Andy Reid. Those were all the names he was willing to divulge at this point, Bidwill said, but added he was looking not only at candidates with NFL experience or coordinators, but also coaches from the college ranks.
There is no set plan whether to hire a coach or general manager first. “The answer is really, what is the right fit?” Bidwill said. “I don’t want to pass up an opportunity to get a good fit.”
Bidwill added he wouldn’t preclude the idea of having a head coach who could have personnel control, but noted that the now solid division rivals in San Francisco and Seattle have both a strong head coach and strong general manager relationship and that was a “healthy model” upon which to look.
Aside from the wins and losses and the quarterback issue, Bidwill also pointed out the continuing problems on offense.
“I just didn’t feel, where things stood, the course we were on (offensively) was the way to keep going,” he said.
That’s a reason for the other changes Monday, where every offensive assistant but tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens was let go: Assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm, offensive coordinator Mike Miller, running backs coach Tommie Robinson, quarterbacks coach John McNulty, wide receivers coach Frank Reich and offensive quality control coach Chad Grimm.
Whisenhunt, hired in 2007, finished with a 45-51 regular-season record and a 4-2 postseason record. He led the Cardinals to two NFC West titles in 2008 and 2009.
“Coaching the Cardinals has been an incredible and rewarding experience and I will always be grateful to Mr. (Bill) Bidwill, Michael and Rod for giving me that opportunity back in 2007,” Whisenhunt said in a statement released by the team. “I’m very proud of what we as a team and as an organization achieved during that time. Collectively we accomplished some very special and unprecedented things. That’s a testament to the dedication, hard work and talent of so many coaches, players and people throughout the organization.
“But we all understand this business and when you don’t win enough games changes are made. That doesn’t mean it’s easy but you definitely don’t have to look far to find people that have it much worse.
“I want to especially thank Cardinals fans who treated my family and me so well and made our time in Arizona so special. While this chapter ends for us, we are hopeful that the ones ahead of us will be as enriching as this one has been.”
Graves had been with the team since 1997. He was made vice president of football operations in 2003 and promoted to general manager in 2007.
“I am very grateful to Michael Bidwill, to his family, to the players and to the staff of the Arizona Cardinals for the opportunity to serve the organization,” Graves said in a statement released by the team. “Working with talented others to build and enhance our brand over the past 16 years has been an awesome and totally enriching experience. It has been the opportunity that others only dream of.
“Every day I came to work I viewed it as the ultimate privilege and never once lost sight of that. My time with the Cardinals has ended but the organization and the people in it will always have a special place within me.”
Bidwill said he feels an “urgency” to fill the spots but added he wanted to make sure he did the proper due diligence. The last time the Cards made a coaching hire – Whisenhunt in 2007 – it took 13 days after letting Dennis Green go.
In the meantime, the players – who had already had their final team meeting Monday morning by the time Whisenhunt and Graves were told – are left to mentally sort out the aftermath.
“It’s a sad day for us as a team whenever the team which we consider family go through all the changes we have just in this one day, but again it comes with being a professional in any line of work changes happen and you have to adapt,” cornerback
“When things like this happen it’s just an eye-opener how the NFL is a business, first and foremost.”
Said defensive end