Thirty-six days after firing coach Kliff Kingsbury, the Arizona Cardinals finally found his replacement Tuesday in former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who just lost the Super Bowl on Sunday.
When Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill set out to find his fourth head coach in the last seven years, he said he would cast a net “far and wide,” and he did. Arizona connected with eight other candidates throughout the process, including Sean Payton (hired as Denver Broncos head coach) and Brian Flores (hired as Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator).
Arizona was the last team to hire a head coach after taking a break in the process when the Super Bowl was in town. Arizona was down to three finalists in recent days: Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, New York Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka and Gannon. Arizona had turned her attention to Gannon and Anarumo in the past few days.
In Gannon, the Cardinals get a 40-year-old defensive mind who was one of the hottest names in the coaching search. They did not participate in the Gannon draft during the first round of interviews, so they had to wait until he was out of the playoffs, which happened to be after the Super Bowl in his new home as head coach.
Now Gannon is in charge of turning a franchise desperate for success after a 4-13 season that followed back-to-back late-season nosedives in 2020 and 2021.
It’s a tall order, but the Cardinals need to feel like Gannon is up for the challenge. Here are some of the biggest questions about Gannon and his new team.
Who is Ganon?
Gannon was the Eagles’ defensive coordinator the past two seasons, overseeing a group that finished first in sacks (70) and passing defense (171.6 yards per game) during the 2022 regular season, helping the Eagles clinch the No. 1 in the NFC. en route to an appearance at Super Bowl LVII.
Prior to that, he worked with the defensive backs as an assistant for the Indianapolis Colts (2018-20) and Minnesota Vikings (2014-17), where he studied under Mike Zimmer. He has cultivated a reputation around the league as a keen soccer mind with CEO qualities that should translate well to a head coaching job. — Tim McManus
Why was Gannon appealing to the Cardinals?
Arizona needed its next coach to change the culture: a coach with winning experience who could stand up to the team, demand respect and coach the players hard.
Gannon checks all those boxes.
The X’s and O’s are the least important part of this contract. Gannon has shown what he can do with talent, although the Cardinals don’t have as much as the Eagles. But it’s about the leadership that Gannon can bring to the locker room. Under Kingsbury, the Cardinals essentially had two head coaches: Vance Joseph was the head coach of the defense and Kingsbury the offense. Closing that gap will be vital to Gannon’s success.
And Gannon who just went to a Super Bowl also helps. — joseph weinfuss
Did offensive or defensive records matter in the Cardinals’ quest?
No. Bidwill said he wasn’t going to rule out any coaches based on which side of the ball they came from. Gannon’s hiring, however, follows the trend of the last four coaches with alternate specialties. Kingsbury was offensive; and before him, Steve Wilks was on the defensive; and before himBruce Arians was offensive.
Bidwill said he wanted to hire someone “with a very good plan and with the right leadership skills.”
The big question now will be which assistants Gannon will bring to his staff, specifically the offensive coordinator.
With the Cardinals not hiring a coach until the end of the offseason, many assistants have found jobs elsewhere because they didn’t want to risk being jobless. When Arizona hired its last two head coaches, the team almost built its staff for them. Whether the Cardinals will do that again remains to be seen.
Who will end up being their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach will be closely watched because of the importance of building a relationship with the face of the franchise, quarterback Kyler Murray. The increasingly strained relationship between Kingsbury and Murray was at the center of the Cardinals’ woes in 2022. — weinfuss
What did Gannon do well in Philly that should encourage Cardinals fans?
He is a first rate communicator. Running back Haason Reddick is among Gannon’s most vocal supporters, crediting him for listening to his players and using his input to tailor the scheme to his strengths.
His general defensive philosophy is to avoid the big play and generate starting points, believing that zone coverage is a good way to do this, as it allows defenders to keep their eyes on the quarterback. While that philosophy may be straightforward, Gannon loves pre-snap costumes to confuse the image of opposing quarterbacks.
Philadelphia’s fan base has mixed feelings about him: His lack of aggressiveness in his first year as DC, in particular, didn’t fit the city’s personality, and the team’s defensive performance in the Super Bowl left a bad taste of mouth, but his coaches and players strongly back him.
“This kid is an incredible coordinator. People love to play for this kid,” coach Nick Sirianni said in January. — McManus
What does this signing mean for Murray?
It’s too soon to have a definitive idea until Gannon hires an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, who will spend most of their time with Murray whenever he returns from a torn ACL in his right knee next week. season.
What will be interesting to see is how Gannon’s relationship with Murray develops.
Not having the head coach directly involved with the offense or the quarterbacks might, in some ways, be better for Murray. He could give him the opportunity to work with those two coaches more often and in more depth than if the head coach was an offensive-minded, play-ordering coach. — weinfuss
What are Gannon’s top priorities in fixing a defense that ranked 31st in points allowed?
He needs to rebuild a pass rush that used to be the foundation of Arizona’s defense and find a true cornerback who can defend every team’s WR1. If he can do that, Arizona’s defense should take a leap in 2023.
Gannon could use a player like Reddick, the former Cardinals linebacker who coached this season in Philadelphia. Reddick did not re-sign with Arizona after the 2020 season and had only one All-Pro season. After the 2021 season, the Cardinals allowed Chandler Jones into free agency, which has left them with a diminished pass rush that struggled to get to the quarterback (36 sacks in 2022, ranked tied for 23rd ).
Adding a No. 1 cornerback, in free agency or by re-signing Byron Murphy Jr., who has been dealing with a back injury, could also be a game changer for Gannon’s defense.
But the biggest question going into the early days of the Gannon regime will be what will happen to Vance Joseph. The current defensive coordinator is still under contract, and some players from last year’s team have expressed to Bidwill their desire for Joseph to be the next head coach. -Winfuss
Where could the Cardinals focus with the No. 3 pick in the draft?
They should take Alabama running back Will Anderson Jr., the top prospect on my board. There’s a good chance they could take the best defender in the draft if the quarterbacks are taken with the top two picks. Anderson could be a game-breaker, and with the recent retirement of JJ Watt (12.5 sacks) and Zach Allen (5.5) poised to become a free agent, there’s a clear need here.
Anderson is a versatile pass-rusher who would solve Arizona’s rushing problems and be a constant disruptor against the run. With 34.5 career sacks for him during his three seasons with the Crimson Tide, he would give this franchise an instant impact player.
In Gannon’s scheme, Anderson will need to improve on his missed tackles (he had 10 last season), but he’ll probably stay in one position instead of moving all over the defense like he was in college. Focusing on one point will help you as a newbie. — jordan reid