By DAVID BRANDT
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals have fired coach Kliff Kingsbury and parted ways with general manager Steve Keim after a dreadful season that saw constant unwanted headlines, a serious knee injury to star quarterback Kyler Murray and lots of losing.
Now it’s time for a franchise reset — again.
“It’s the hardest day in the football life, when you’ve got to part ways with people that you respect and appreciate all their contributions,” Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill said on Monday.
The 43-year-old Kingsbury — who received a contract extension just last year — finishes his tenure with a 28-37-1 record over four seasons, including a 4-13 mark this year. The Cardinals ended the season on a seven-game losing streak, falling to the San Francisco 49ers 38-13 on Sunday.
“I wished it could have worked out better for him,” Bidwill said. “Because in terms of putting in the effort, he’s a guy who deserved to have the outcome we were all expecting.”
The 50-year-old Keim also received a contract extension last season. He’s been with the Cardinals since 1999 and served as the team’s general manager since 2013. He took a medical leave of absence in December, but the team didn’t elaborate on the reason.
Now Bidwill begins the process of looking for a new coach and general manager. The job could be attractive to candidates: The Cardinals already have a long-term quarterback and also possess the No. 3 overall pick in the upcoming draft.
Bidwill said he’d prefer to hire a new general manager first and then decide on a head coach, but the order could be switched. He said he’s already interviewed two internal candidates — Adrian Wilson and Quentin Harris — and an unnamed external candidate for the GM job.
Wilson and Harris were the two top deputies under Keim this season.
Bidwill is a part of the NFL’s Workplace Diversity Committee and said he plans to use those connections in the search.
“It’s giving me a real head start,” Bidwill said.
Kingsbury joins a long list of names who couldn’t win enough games for one of the NFL’s least-successful franchises. The Cardinals haven’t won a championship since 1947 and have never had a coach last more than six seasons in more than a century of existence.
The low-key Kingsbury was Bidwill’s surprise choice to lead the franchise back in 2019, replacing Steve Wilks. A few months later, the franchise selected quarterback Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
A former quarterback himself, Kingsbury had developed a reputation for working with young quarterbacks, including Patrick Mahomes, who played for Kingsbury at Texas Tech and went on to lead the Kansas City Chiefs to a Super Bowl win.
For a while, the Kingsbury-Murray pairing looked as if it would succeed. The Cardinals went 5-10-1 in 2019 before improving to 8-8 in 2020. The Cardinals started last season with a 10-2 record, emerging as a Super Bowl favorite, but lost four of their final five regular-season games.
They still made the playoffs, but lost to the Los Angeles Rams 34-11 in the wild-card round.
The Cardinals started this season with high expectations, but nothing went as planned. The first bad omen came when three-time All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins was suspended for the season’s first six games after violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancers.
Murray signed a $230.5 million contract with the Cardinals before training camp that could keep him with the franchise through 2028. Instead of being a celebratory moment, a strange clause in Murray’s contract that mandated four hours of independent study on game weeks drew criticism.
The clause was eventually removed, but the damage to Murray’s reputation was done.
Hopkins returned after his six-game suspension in October, but the season had already gone sideways. An avalanche of injuries to the offense didn’t help: They lost starting tight end Zach Ertz to a season-ending knee injury and four offensive linemen missed significant time.
Then Murray was lost for the season after tearing ligaments in his knee against the Patriots on Dec. 12.
“Every year is different,” Cardinals running back James Conner said. “This year was definitely different.”
Kingsbury stayed stoic, even as the season was crumbling. There were plenty of off-the-field issues as well. Assistant coach Sean Kugler was fired after an incident in Mexico City and Keim’s leave of absence was another surprise.
Even so, the Cardinals continued to play hard, just not particularly well. Kingsbury was popular among players in the locker room, but it wasn’t enough to save his job.
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