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The Arizona Cardinals are one of the five NFL teams (for now) heading into the 2023 offseason without a head coach. Owner Michael Bidwill has fired Kliff Kingsbury and parted ways with general manager Steve Keim. The franchise is now officially in the hands of quarterback Kyler Murray, but who will be the next Cardinals head coach steering the ship? Here we will look at the four best Cardinals head coach candidates and the Cardinals’ head coach history.

The end of the Kliff Kingsbury Era 

When the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury in 2019, he was coming off an embarrassing firing at his alma mater, Texas Tech. The franchise even admitted when it hired him that one of his biggest selling points was that he was friends with the hot coach of the moment, Sean McVay.

As soon as Kingsbury took over, the franchise allowed him to jettison 2018 No. 10 overall pick Josh Rosen and draft a new QB at No. 1 in 2019, Kyler Murray.

The Kingsbury-Murray partnership started fast and ended in a whimper, which fits perfectly with how the Cardinals played the last four seasons. Under Kingsbury’s leadership, the team almost always started strongly and collapsed in the end, both in games and seasons.

Even in seasons where the team started 5-2 and 8-1, the Cards finished 8-8 and 11-6. They also blew first-half leads throughout 2020 and 2021. Kingsbury bookended these relatively successful seasons with 5-10-1 and 4-13 campaigns.

In 2022, he also infamously fell out with his recently-extended QB on several occasions on the sideline.

At the end of this season, Murray has a five-year, $230.5 million contract with $189.5 million guaranteed and a torn ACL. The future of the franchise is up in the air right now, and firing Kingsbury after posting a 28-37-1 record is justified, but not a magic fix.

So, with Kliff Kingsbury out, who are the four best Cardinals head coach candidates this offseason?

Best Cardinals head coach candidates

Cardinals head coach candidates, Cardinals head coach, Arizona Cardinals, Cardinals head coach history, Kliff Kingsbury
(L-R) Shane Steichen, Kliff Kingsbury, Ken Dorsey | Christian Petersen/Getty Images; Michael Reaves/Getty Images; Michael Reaves/Getty Images

After the Kyler Murray contract extension, the Cardinals are now tied to the QB at least through 2025, if not longer. Making Murray the superstar signal-caller the franchise obviously thinks he can be is priority No. 1, so offensive-minded is the way the team has to go. With that in mind, here are the best options for the next Cardinals head coach, in order from “worst” (of the four best) to best.

4. Sean Payton, former head coach, New Orleans Saints

Sean Payton is a dream hire for the Cardinals, and one of the selling points is that he could bring his own general manager with him if he has one in mind. The downside is that Michael Bidwill isn’t a great owner, and he’s already paying Kliff Kingsbury and Steve Keim a ton of money to go away after they signed extensions last offseason. That, and having to give the Saints draft compensation for Payton, probably disqualify him as the next Cardinals head coach, but he would be the perfect guy to turn an undersized QB like Murray around after what he did with Drew Brees.

3. Ben Johnson, offensive coordinator, Detroit Lions

The job Ben Johnson did with Jared Goff and the Lions offense this year was absolutely incredible. He played to the unit and the quarterback’s strengths and turned them into a high-powered offense. If Bidwill believes that most of the pieces are already in place and all the team needs is a more modern, balanced offense, then Johnson could be the guy.

2. Ken Dorsey, offensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills

During the last coach-hiring cycle, the New York Giants brought in GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll from the Buffalo Bills, and the team went from the No. 4 pick in the draft to the playoffs. Could the Cardinals do the same and do a Bills double dip and poach front office executive Brian Gaine or Terrance Gray and pair them with Ken Dorsey? It’s possible and not a bad strategy after what’s happened in New Jersey. The only downside here is that Dorsey doesn’t have the experience Daboll had.

1. Shane Steichen, offensive coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles

Designing an offense around a running quarterback with questionable passing skills is how Shane Steichen turned the Eagles into the best team in the NFC this season. And, as of last offseason, at least, most thought Kyler Murray was a way better QB than Jalen Hurts. Steichen changed that narrative in a hurry, which is why he is the best one to change it back and fix what’s wrong in the desert.

Cardinals head coach history 

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The NFL franchise that we know as the Cardinals today started as the Chicago Cardinals way back in 1920. The Chicago version of the franchise had 14 head coaches. The team merged with Pittsburgh for one season (1944) and had co-head coaches before recycling to old head coaches and naming six more in Chicago.

In 1960, the team moved to St. Louis and had 12 different headmen in Missouri. Finally, the team moved to Arizona in 1998 (under the name Phoenix Cardinals). Here is the full Phoenix Arizona Cardinals head coach history:

Phoenix Cardinals head coaches 

  1. Gene Stallings, 1986–1989
  2. Hank Kuhlmann, 1989 — interim head coach
  3. Joe Bugel, 1990–1993

Arizona Cardinals head coaches 

  1. Buddy Ryan, 1994–1995                                
  2. Vince Tobin, 1996–2000
  3. Dave McGinnis, 2000–2003
  4. Dennis Green, 2004–2006
  5. Ken Whisenhunt, 2007–2012
  6. Bruce Arians, 2013–2017
  7. Steve Wilks, 2018                                         
  8. Kliff Kingsbury, 2019–2023

And now the search begins for the 11th full-time head coach in Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals franchise history.