TEMPE – Jonathan Gannon wasted little time in laying down the law.
Four nights ago and fresh off a Super Bowl loss, Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman told Gannon, then the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, that Gannon had to stay an extra night in Glendale instead of flying home with the team.
The reason was obvious. The Arizona Cardinals wanted to interview Gannon for the head coaching position left vacant by Kliff Kingsbury, who was fired after a dismal 4-13 season. Gannon, like Kingsbury, had never been at the helm of an NFL team, but that didn’t dissuade Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill from offering Gannon the keys to the Cardinals’ kingdom.
“I’m talking Arizona Cardinals and what this team is going to be,” a passionate Gannon said at Thursday’s introductory press conference. “We’re going to be adaptable, we’re going to be violent, we’re going to be explosive, and we’re going to be smart. We will maximize the talents of the players that we have and that is how we are going to win games.
“Don’t get it twisted: we’re going to win games.”
As Gannon made promises, all eyes turned to quarterback Kyler Murray, who was sitting in the front row of the press conference along with nine Cardinals players. There had been rumors swirling in the national media about various coaches passing on what should be a coveted job because they didn’t want to work with Murray, who is recovering from ACL surgery.
“It seems like every other day there has been a story about Kyler in a negative light,” said teammate Zach Ertz. “People forget how talented he is, he was drafted No.1 overall for a reason. He has had a lot of success in the NFL for a reason and I have negative aspects about my game, but they are not getting thrown around in the media every day.”
Gannon also addressed his thoughts on Murray’s considerable talent. It was on display in Week 5 when Murray passed for 250 yards, a touchdown and an interception, ran for another 42 yards on four carries – and the Cardinals still lost to the Eagles.
“We played against the Cardinals this year and it was a unique game plan to put together because of his (Murray’s) skillset,” Gannon said. “I use the term ‘he is a problem to defend’ because of what he can do.
“You can tell that he is super competitive, which you have to be at that spot, and very self-aware, which I thought was really cool,” Gannon added of Murray. “The maturity that he shows when we talked, he ultimately, just like me, wants to get started and wants to do great things and win football games. And I think that he knows whatever he needs to do for the team, that’s what he’ll do.”
Gannon’s professional background dates to his first job in the NFL when he joined the Atlanta Falcons in 2007 as a defensive assistant and quality control coach, giving him a unique perspective to bolster Murray’s game.
“I am looking forward to working with him (Murray) and showing him, this is how defenses are going to try and stop you and here is what you need to be ready for,” Gannon said. “That is going to help him move all the way up and down the field, score a lot of points, be explosive, and protect the football.”
Bidwill, who was very vocal about the organization taking its time to find the right person, made it known that Murray was discussed during the hiring process.
“I am excited about the view he (Gannon) had of our elite quarterback, getting him back to being a playmaker that he is and making sure we build around him,” Bidwill said. “Especially Kyler as our quarterback, to really get after it, and I was excited about what his plan is and how he outlined it.”
Vision is one of the aspects that stood out during the hiring process for Monti Ossenfort, the Cardinals’ new general manager. “Ultimately our process led us to Jonathan,” Ossenfort said. “Jonathan’s energy when he entered the room was nonstop from the beginning, all the more impressive coming off of the Super Bowl just an hour before he stepped into our room. Jonathan’s vision for our organization matched up well with the vision for our organization and the vision we (Bidwill and Ossenfort) envision for the Cardinals organization.”
Cardinals players had expressed that leadership was sometimes missing last season under Kingsbury and general manager Steve Kiem, who left at season’s end because of health issues. Gannon on Thursday immediately double-downed on what he expects from every member of the organization.
“Everybody that we bring in here, that is here, or will be a Cardinal will have elite football character because you will not hit your ceiling if you don’t have that,” Gannon said.
The new trio of Bidwill, Ossenfort and Gannon now must make major roster decisions regarding free agents and the overall direction they want to take. Gannon said he likes the core pieces already in place and cannot wait to get to work.
Gannon was also transparent in the type of relationship he thinks he and Ossenfort will have, something that has not been clear in the past to Cardinals fans.
During Monday’s interview with Cardinals brass, Ossenfort asked Gannon a question and he responded quickly, asking the question right back. Gannon and Ossenfort disagreed on their answers but were able to understand each other’s points while discussing the reasoning behind each one.
“I think we are going to have a really good relationship as far as here is where we both did not disagree on, we are going to do everything we can to put the best people out there to win games,” Gannon said. “There are different ways to do that. We will explore all of those options and that is what we are going to do.”
Despite Gannon’s lack of experience as an NFL head coach, his reputation as a tough defensive mind is undeniable. Having been part of NFL staffs for six teams since 2007 – including a three-year stint as a scout for the St. Louis Rams from 2009-2011 – he has learned and adapted a coaching style that led the Eagles defense to the lowest average yards per game last season (292.8 yards).
Cardinals fans who lost sleep over the lack of accountability within the organization last season – failures highlighted by players, media and HBO’s Hard Knocks in Season: The Arizona Cardinals – can finally get some shut eye.
“Player accountability is simply this, you got to define what winning behavior is and hold people to that standard,” Gannon said. “It is your daily actions with what you’re doing on a daily basis to improve yourself as a player and as a team.
“Accountability is not a negative. It’s a positive so when people do the right thing that shows winning behavior, you’re going to see our guys love them up.”