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Why the Cardinals hired Jonathan Gannon as head coach: What defensive-minded hire means for Kyler Murray

The Cardinals’ coaching search is finally over, and it concluded with them poaching the other Eagles coordinator shortly after the Colts hired Shane Steichen away from Philadelphia.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon will take over as Arizona’s head coach for 2023 after just two years helming the Philadelphia defense. It’s a starkly different direction from where the Cardinals went when they hired Kliff Kingsbury, and it’s somewhat surprising given reports Kyler Murray was involved in Arizona’s coaching search.

With that being said, the Cardinals are the last to hire their coach despite being tied to multiple names over the course of the postseason including Sean Payton, Mike Kafka and Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. Reports indicated it was down to Anarumo and Kafka, but the Cardinals were reportedly enamored with Gannon through Super Bowl weekend and ultimately landed on him as their head coach.

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The Sporting News looks at what the Cardinals saw in Gannon and what the hire could mean for Kyler Murray: 

Why did the Cardinals hire Jonathan Gannon?

Despite the rapid nature of the Cardinals’ courtship of the 40-year-old Gannon, he’s an interesting hire for them.

The Eagles had the best passing defense in the NFL and the second-best defense overall with Gannon calling the plays, not to mention by far the most sacks with 70. His Eagles tenure ended on an inauspicious note, with the Eagles defense giving up 24 points in the second half to lose the Super Bowl to the Chiefs.

The Cardinals had the 21st-ranked defense in 2022, and they were 31st in QBR against (the Eagles were third). The hope in Arizona is Gannon will bring consistency to the Cardinals defense, which saw a downturn from being 11th in the NFL in 2021.

After going 4-13, the Cardinals needed a change. Kingsbury was 28-37-1 as Arizona’s head coach in four seasons, and the Murray situation is continuing to loom large. The Cardinals went through a lot of candidates, but it took just two days of interviews for them to decide Gannon was their guy.

Furthermore, for better or worse, Gannon was available. The Cardinals coaching search extended all the way through the postseason and they were connected to everyone from Brian Flores to Dan Quinn. Once it became clear they wouldn’t get a coveted offensive mind e.g. Payton, they started looking at defensive-minded coaches. Gannon was one of the top coaches who was available after Super Bowl weekend, and the Cardinals jumped.

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What does Jonathan Gannon hire mean for Kyler Murray?

Despite initial reports Murray would be involved in the Cardinals head coach search, it became evident fairly quickly he wasn’t the end-all-be-all.

It’s unclear how much input Murray actually had, but the abundance of defensive rumors indicate he wasn’t particularly present. After the Cardinals moved on from Payton in their search, nearly every other rumor was linked to a defensive coach, save for Kafka.

The hire will put a lot of emphasis on the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator hire, as it will have to be a coach who’s innovative enough to maximize Murray’s potential.

If Gannon can turn around the Cardinals defense, the rest could well fall into place. But in an offseason following a 4-13 season in which the Cardinals have 31 pending free agents — most of them role players — it’s going to be important to get the offseason right.

Gannon is the first step, but there’s a long way to go in Arizona to get their roster right to give Gannon a chance to succeed.


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