Cardinals’ candidates boast solid credentials

TEMPE, Ariz. – The Cardinals practice complex was a ghost town on Wednesday afternoon — visually and metaphorically.

On the day when practice normally resumes for a club preparing for its next opponent, the fields were silent for a third consecutive non-playoff season. In the walkways and rooms through which coaches and executives normally pass, you searched in vain for the familiar faces of Ken Whisenhunt, Rod Graves, Russ Grimm, Mike Miller and John McNulty.

Change has come for the Cardinals, but it doesn’t yet have a face, only candidates.

We know there are at least three possibilities for the vacant head coach – maybe more like Oregon coach Chip Kelly or Penn State coach Bill O’Brien that team president Michael Bidwill is not yet willing to name. But what is it that makes defensive coordinator Ray Horton, former Eagles coach Andy Reid or Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy strong possibilities to replace Whisenhunt?

Here are some quick thoughts:

Ray Horton

Horton has 19 years of NFL coaching experience and has been the Cardinals defensive coordinator for the past two seasons so he knows Arizona’s personnel far better than the other two candidates.

He is popular with his players and personable in his media responsibilities, but it’s hard to gauge whether that will change when he dons a new hat. Assistants are often more relaxed because they don’t have the same responsibilities or pressure that a head coach faces – or the same disciplinary responsibilities.

Regardless, Horton has proven to the team’s defensive players that his coaching style and scheme work. Arizona was ranked in the NFL’s top 10 in seven different categories and in the top 13 in five others.

Can he take the next step, resuscitate Arizona’s offense and succeed as a head coach? With no prior experience, that’s a leap of faith team president Michael Bidwill will have to take if Horton’s hire-o-meter is maxing out after two days worth of interviews. Horton has also interviewed with the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills.

Andy Reid

Reid’s obvious calling cards are his 14 years of experience as an NFL head coach and his prior experience with Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb.

Some might argue that Reid gave up on Kolb when he traded him, but that was a necessary and smart business move in today’s NFL. For good, or for what eventually became bad, the Philadelphia Eagles had committed significant money to Michael Vick. They had to ride that train, and Kolb was a red-hot commodity on the trade market, bringing Pro Bowl caliber cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick from the Cards in return. Reid knows Kolb’s strengths already so there won’t be the need for a feeling-out process. He’s also been through the wars, so not much can surprise or divert him.

Philadelphia’s last two seasons were not what anyone expected after the club spent significant money to upgrade its roster, but Reid still led the Eagles to four consecutive NFC championship games and the 2004 Super Bowl, where they lost to New England. Reid owns Philly’s franchise record for wins with 140, he won seven division titles, and he went to five NFC championship games overall. He also spawned current coaches John Harbaugh, Ron Rivera and Leslie Frazier, who will garner many votes as coach of the year after leading Minnesota to the playoffs with Christian Ponder at quarterback. Clearly, there is much to admire about Reid’s past.

The Kansas City Chiefs are also interested in Reid.

Mike McCoy

Like Horton, McCoy has vast experience as an NFL assistant, having spent 13 years with Carolina and Denver – the last two as the Broncos offensive coordinator.

McCoy’s greatest trick may have been turning Tim Tebow into a reasonably effective NFL quarterback in 2011 by implementing a read-option scheme that played to Tebow’s strengths. The Broncos led the league is rushing and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs.

With Peyton Manning at QB this season, McCoy clearly had to adjust the Broncos’ offense, but Denver still posted an AFC-best 13-3 record, earning McCoy a reputation for being able to alter his offense to fit his personnel. McCoy has also drawn interest from the Chicago Bears, who may boast the most attractive vacant position in the NFL.

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