Will Graves Drive Candidates Away?


Posted Jan 4, 2007


The Cardinals are looking for a lot in their next head coach. A strong, decisive leader, a talent evaluator, a disciplinarian. Apparently they are NOT looking for a General Manager, as the resigning of Rod Graves to a three-year extension shows. Would Mariucci or Carroll or other top candidates come to a team where they had less than full control?

INSIDE SLANT
It would be just like the Cardinals to screw up their coaching search before the final bag of trash is removed from Dennis Green's office.
In announcing that vice president of operations Rod Graves had received a new three-year contract the same day Green was shown the door after his teams won six, five and five games in three seasons, the Cardinals might have taken themselves out of the running for the sort of high-impact, proven coach that it would take to reverse their miserable fortunes.
Would, say, a Pete Carroll or a Steve Mariucci give any thought to coming to the desert with anything less than total control?
Even Mike Sherman, whose interview is Thursday, must take a hard look at the Cardinals' management organizational flow chart.
Cardinals executives had an interview with Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera in Chicago on Wednesday.
After Sherman, the assistant head coach of the Texans and former coach of the Packers, interviews in Tempe on Thursday, Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is due in on Friday.
Then, the Cardinals are to meet Saturday in San Diego with Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, and in Indianapolis on Sunday with Colts assistant head coach/quarterbacks Jim Caldwell.
Graves said the short list of seven also includes Tennessee offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who will interview in Tempe on Monday.
Pittsburgh assistant head coach/offensive line Russ Grimm also is on the list but has not yet been scheduled for his interview.
Grim and Whisenhunt will be considered for the Steelers job if Bill Cowher steps down.
The interviewing schedule is aggressive, but do the Cardinals want a proven head coach, or is this an organization content to hire someone's coordinator or position coach? They've paraded the likes of Joe Bugel, Vince Tobin and Dave McGinnis through Tempe with no previous head coaching experience -- and with no luck. But then, Buddy Ryan and Green, who had been NFL head coaches, were no more successful.
There already are two other NFL openings, in Atlanta and Miami, and the Cardinals soon could be in competition in the coaching pool with Pittsburgh and Dallas.
The Cardinals and Graves are going to have to convince any hopefuls that Graves is there to be more of a valet than an impediment.
After all, Graves, a loyal soldier who had worked without a contract since his last one expired in May, seemingly sat idly by as Green ran roughshod. Graves disputes that assessment, though.
"What I attempted to do, based on Dennis Green's record and success, is to give him support, to support the plan that he wanted to implement," Graves said. "Although I may have disagreed sometimes, I felt supporting his plan and the way he wanted to build this football team is something I chose to do.
"And by moving forward, we'll assess how decisions are made, but ultimately the authority rests in my corner with respect to football operations."
Nevertheless, Green constantly turned over not only the roster but even his own coaching staff. He fired seven assistants, including two of during seasons.
He used five quarterbacks in three years.
"Rod supported many of those moves because we saw coach Green as somebody who was very innovative and bold in terms of how he would mold a team," said Michael Bidwill, the team's vice president and general counsel.
Graves was on board during the tenures of Tobin and McGinnis, when there were more misses than hits in personnel decisions. However, Green inherited, as will his successor, players such as 2007 Pro Bowlers Anquan Boldin and Adrian Wilson, as well as Gerald Hayes and Bryant Johnson, and possibly Leonard Davis and Marcel Shipp (who become unrestricted free agents) from the McGinnis years.
"I think if you look at where the team is in terms of our talent and terms of our football operations and in terms of how we drafted and signed free agents, Rod has done a very good job of building the talent," Bidwill said.
But the roster suddenly got better when Green arrived. Free agents Edgerrin James, Kurt Warner, Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor signed on during his run. The team drafted Matt Leinart, Larry Fitzgerald, Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett. The Cardinals didn't hit the jackpot with every personnel move they made, but their drafts were better during Green's run, and his input no doubt was a factor.
Sherman told reporters in Houston, "I think the Cardinals have a tremendous opportunity to win. They've got a lot of great young talent to go with a lot of quality veterans. ... They've got a lot of the pieces in place to win."
Echoed Graves, "We feel like we have a very good football team in place. We feel we're talented and we'll continue to build on this team, as much as the way we have over the last several years by being aggressive in free agency and drafting well."
Graves has been vice president of operations since 2002. He was assistant to the president for six years before that. Graves, 47, serves as the team's primary contract negotiator in addition to overseeing college and professional scouting, assisting salary cap management and consulting on other business aspects.
He'd been in the Bears' front office for 13 years. Although he's been around, he has yet to be mentioned among the best in the business.
The Cardinals announced that Green was out shortly after the players reported for exit physicals and their final team meeting on Monday. He hasn't been heard from since. Thirty-two losses in three years was too much even for a franchise that has had one winning season in 22 years and has one playoff win in six decades.
In bringing Graves back after the Green years, perhaps the Cardinals have given him new marching orders regarding how he'll manage the new coach.
Or not. His job again might well be to stay out of the way as much as possible, depending on the experience level of the new coach.
Graves' role no doubt will be a factor in the coaching search.



Related Stories
Warner Returns; Top 5 In Draft; Roster Report
 -by AZRedReport.com  Jan 4, 2007
Graves Stays; Who's Coming?
 -by AZRedReport.com  Jan 2, 2007
Cards Coaching Candidates Part 5: Norm Chow
 -by AZRedReport.com  Jan 8, 2007

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