Cardinals Have Options with New Coordinators

Ken Whisenhunt (Getty)

Following their first Super Bowl berth in franchise history, the Arizona Cardinals are searching for coordinators on both sides of the ball. Todd Haley is now the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs while former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast was fired shortly thereafter. Brad Wilbricht analyzes the changes and outlines who might be in line to take over for the reigning NFC Champs.

While change isn't always a good thing, more often than not it brings a fresh approach and a rejuvenated attitude to a particular job opening. There are several reasons assistant coaches leave an organization and the Arizona Cardinals have experienced both sides of the spectrum within a matter of days.

Former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast was a holdover from the Dennis Green regime and did an adequate job while in Arizona. Part of his dismissal boils down to a change in philosophy as the Cardinals have been gradually shifting to the 3-4 defense. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt became accustomed with the 3-4 defensive scheme during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pendergast's aggressive style caters more towards a traditional 4-3 defense and Arizona had been utilizing a hybrid approach over the past two seasons.

In addition to the Cardinals' continuing transition, Pendergast's defensive units failed to make a lasting impact. Arizona's best finish in total defense was eighth in 2005 but slipped to 29th in 2006. Despite a terrific playoff performance, the Cardinals finished just 19th in total defense this season.

Arizona has several options and could fill the void at defensive coordinator internally. Current linebackers coach Bill Davis spent two seasons as defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers before heading to Arizona in 2007. Davis will be considered as well as defensive line coach Ron Aiken who could be a dark-horse candidate. From the outside, Pittsburgh linebackers coach Keith Butler has already been mentioned as a possible target.


Keith Butler
(Getty)

Butler has been coveted by Whisenhunt since he took over in the desert. The two worked together in Pittsburgh and Butler has spent six seasons in the Steel City, including five years under legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Whisenhunt's initial stab at Butler was unsuccessful as he's currently under contract with the Steelers. Pittsburgh will need to give the Cardinals permission to speak with Butler, something they declined two years ago.

The Steelers' linebacking corps was arguably the best in the NFL this season and was a major fixture in Pittsburgh's Super Bowl XLIII win. Butler has played an instrumental role in the development of James Harrison, James Farrior and LaMarr Woodley.

The vacant offensive coordinator position is far less predictable at this point in time. Current members of the Arizona offensive staff – offensive line coach Russ Grimm and running backs coach Maurice Carthon – are two available options. However, Whisenhunt has stressed they were prepared for Haley's departure and have contingency plans already in place. Given the recent success of the Cardinals' offense, whoever takes over will have big shoes to fill.

In 2008, Arizona ranked third in NFL in points scored (26.7 points per game) and fourth in total offense (365.8 yards per game). The Cardinals showed steady improvement under Haley's guidance after averaging just 313 yards per game in 2006. Additionally, Haley helped send QB Kurt Warner, WR Anquan Boldin and WR Larry Fitzgerald to this year's Pro Bowl.

Regardless of which candidates are selected to take over, look for Arizona to fill the vacancies quickly. With the scouting combine and NFL draft rapidly approaching, both coordinators will be heavily relied upon during the talent evaluation process.


Brad Wilbricht can be contacted at brad.wilbricht@gmail.com

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