Cardinals fire Wilks after 1 season, again in search of coach
TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals have fired Steve Wilks after just one season as head coach.
Wilks’ firing Monday followed a 3-13 season, the franchise’s worst record in 18 years and the worst in the NFL this season.
He is the first Cardinals coach to be fired after one season since Joe Kuharich in 1952.
At a news conference, team President Michael Bidwill called Wilks “one of the hardest-working coaches I’ve ever been around” and a man respected throughout the organization.
But Bidwill cited the number of losses and the lack of competitiveness in many of those games as a reason for the firing, saying the team went backward on offense and defense.
“It’s a results-oriented business,” Bidwill said, “and if you don’t win everybody knows what happens.”
Wilks, 49, was hired after Bruce Arians retired following five seasons in Arizona. It was a dramatic shift in styles and a mistake, Bidwill acknowledged.
“When I look back at last year obviously I didn’t get it right,” Bidwill said. “I take responsibility for it and we’re going to make sure we get it right this time around.”
He said he couldn’t get behind a plan Wilks presented for the 2019 season.
Bidwill contended the now-vacant Cardinals job would be the most attractive of the eight NFL openings, noting the team’s core of talented players, a young franchise quarterback, the top overall draft pick and subsequent picks and plenty of salary cap space.
Bidwill said requests for interviews would go out to teams shortly and informal contact already had been made with two coaches who are out of football.
Arians was known for his flamboyant personality and dynamic offense. The low-keyed Wilks came to the job with an entire coaching resume on defense.
He was defensive backs coach at Carolina for five seasons before being promoted to defensive coordinator by Panthers coach Ron Rivera for the 2017 season.
Wilks wanted to build a team centered on toughness up front and a power running game. But things fell apart quickly. The offensive line struggled even before it was decimated by injuries and the defense was susceptible to big plays, especially on the ground.
Rookie Josh Rosen took over at quarterback four games into the season, replacing the ineffective Sam Bradford.
The offense struggled and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was fired seven games into the season, replaced by quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich.
Injuries continued to accumulate. Eventually, 17 players ended up on injured reserve. On the offensive line, only rookie center Mason Cole made it through the season.
Arizona lost nine games by double digits, five by 20 points or more. The Cardinals were 1-7 at home, their worst record there since moving to Arizona. The miserable record guaranteed the Cardinals their first No. 1 overall draft pick in 60 years.
Bidwill said he had concerns about the coaching situation early on.
“It was a cumulative effect as it went on, but I wanted to make sure I gave him the whole season, every opportunity, to turn it around because I thought it was most fair to him,” he said. “But you saw from the very beginning, even when we had a healthy squad, the first two games we were outscored 58-6 so I had some concerns from the very beginning.”
Bidwill said he understood the frustration of fans as the season got worse.
“I’m a fan first,” he said. “It’s been frustrating for me to watch these games and I don’t know that anybody has been hurting more than me. I’ve been extremely frustrated, had a lot of sleepless nights, looked in the mirror about what things I can be doing differently to make this organization better and that’s what we’re going to be doing going forward, is make sure we get it right.”
The team’s offense finished last in the league, where it had been all season.
General manager Steve Keim acknowledged he bears some responsibility for this awful season but added “at the end of the day I have the utmost confidence in myself that I’m going to be able to get this thing turned around and head us in the right direction.”
Bidwill voiced his support for Keim, noting the general manager was “the chief architect of the winningest five years in this franchise’s history.”
After Arizona’s last-second 27-24 loss at Seattle on Sunday, players seemed unanimous in their desire for Wilks to be given a second season.
“I’ve let it be known, I love the man,” star receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “I think he’s an unbelievable coach. It’s been a tough year, and we all understand this is a results business, but it’s hard for me to separate the business from the personal. I’ve got a heart, and I’m human. I really like coach.”
With Wilks’ status confirmed, there is still one major uncertainty: Will Fitzgerald be back for a 16th season?