TEMPE, Ariz. — The list — best categorized, for the moment, as “early” rather than “short” — includes a well-known victim of Monday’s “Black Monday” purge.
That marquee candidate is Andy Reid, recently relieved from his head-coaching duties with the Philadelphia Eagles and a name offered during a press conference presided over by Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwill.
During an official gathering to explain the firings of Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves, Bidwill limited his offering of potential replacement names to four.
Those included Reid, Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton and Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy as candidates to replace Whisenhunt. Steve Keim, the current Cardinals director of player personnel, is expected to be interviewed to replace Graves.
And according to Bidwill, there is no chronological protocol for the two hirings.
“I don’t want to pass up an opportunity for a good fit just to follow an order,” he said, meaning that if the best head-coaching candidate comes along and accepts the job first, the subsequent GM hire will have to live with it.
Although Reid, who steered the Eagles to five NFC championship games and one Super Bowl, is the biggest name to officially surface, Horton will get the first interview, Bidwill said.
According to national reports, Horton is a candidate to be interviewed for several NFL head-coaching jobs. Although he’s popular with Arizona’s cast of talented defensive players, Bidwill said he’s not limiting his hiring options by favoring candidates oriented toward defense or offense.
As for the coach the Cardinals’ eventual hire will be replacing, Bidwill — taking a straightforward approach — said firing Whisenhunt was an exercise in simple scoreboard math.
“It came down to wins and losses,” said the president of a team that’s posted a record of 18-30 over the past three seasons. “It’s a decision I made over the last several weeks and that I finalized last night.”
Whisenhunt and the Cardinals lost to the 49ers in San Francisco on Sunday night, dropping to 5-11 in a season they began 4-0.
Bidwill also said Whisenhunt was not given the option of being stripped of some personnel-related clout in order to keep his job.
In discussing his firing of the only coach to lead the Cardinals to a Super Bowl appearance, Bidwill mentioned the “dramatic improvements” made by other NFC West teams and the relative waste of a talented, aggressive defense presided over by Horton.
“The last two (years), our defense has performed at a very high level,” Bidwill said, “while our offense seemed to struggle.”
Ranking last in the league — anchored by the NFL’s lowest quarterback rating — turns that seeming into believing.
“I just didn’t feel like, where things stood, the course we were on was the way we should be going,” Bidwill said.
Whisenhunt, whose tactical calling card was offense when he was hired by the Cardinals after a run as offensive coordinator with the Steelers, was unable to land a quarterback to approach the level of productivity bestowed upon the organization by Kurt Warner, who retired one season removed from pitching Arizona to the Super Bowl.
Since Warner’s departure, the Cardinals have been bouncing through a revolving door of quarterbacks with little experience and/or skill working behind less-than-stellar offensive lines.
But during Monday’s press conference, Bidwill pointed out that this positional problem goes beyond talent identification.
“It’s not just finding, but developing, quarterbacks,” he said.
Whisenhunt and Graves thought the remedy would be Kevin Kolb, who was dealt to the Cardinals — by Reid and the Eagles — before last season. Kolb’s time here has been muted by injury; after sustaining a rib injury in Week 6, he never returned, and the offensively challenged Cards managed just one more victory the rest of the way.
“That’s a question that needs to be answered,” Bidwill said of Kolb, who would cost about $10 million next season if allow to remain under his current contract, “but I’m not ready to give up on Kevin Kolb yet.”
Before launching his bottom-line explanation for firing Whisenhunt and Graves, Bidwill stressed the difficulty in parting company with two men whose impact on the franchise was considerable.
“They helped us get to the point where we really stabilized the franchise,” he said.
Whisenhunt, 50, leaves with a record of 45-51 and $5.5 million left on his contract, which had one year remaining. Graves, a 16-year employee of the franchise, had been the general manager since 2007.
But in a results-driven league, such decisions are part of doing business.
“It’s a lot more fun to be winning football games and having excitement around here and a winning organization,” Bidwill said. “I want to get back to that.”