Cover photo: Left - Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill; right - Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury
Cover photo credit: Michael Chow, The Republic
Why is it that some sports organizations never seem to get their act together? You know who I'm talking about. The NFL has the Lions, Bengals, and Jaguars (the NFL is not nice to cat-teams), the NHL has the Coyotes (sneak peek of next week's column), Oilers, and Panthers, the NBA has the Kings, Timberwolves, and Clippers, and the MLB doesn't matter because of its luxury tax system. Either way, this question is one that looms large over many teams and cities, and is one that many new sports fans find themselves desperately trying to figure out. Well, allow me to let you in on the answer to this question: it's all about the owner. It, of course, is a bit more complicated than that, but really, the owner/ownership group is critical to the success of an organization's success. It is the owner that hires the GM, who in turn hires the coach and assembles the team's roster. Incompetent owners hire incompetent GM's who hire incompetent coaches and assemble incompetent rosters. A lot of the time, it really is that simple.
So what does any of this have to do with our hometown NFL team? Well, in 1920, 14 teams came together to form the league that would eventually become the NFL, the American Professional Football Association. Only two teams in the modern day NFL can trace their roots back to one of those initial 14 teams: the Chicago Bears, then known as the Decatur Staleys, and the Arizona Cardinals, then known as the Chicago Cardinals. The Cardinals are actually older than the Bears, as the Chicago Cardinals were founded before the Staleys were. So yes, our very own Arizona Cardinals are the oldest team in the NFL. Pretty cool right? Don't get me wrong, that is definitely a cool fact. It would be a lot cooler, however, if they weren't one of the twelve teams in the NFL who have never won a Super Bowl. Not only that, but they haven't won an NFL championship since 1947. That is a drought of 75 years - the longest in American professional sports.
So, back to the point. Some teams simply aren't successful. Our beloved Arizona Cardinals are one of those teams. Their reasoning is no different than any other perennial cellar dweller: they are poorly ran, and, as luck would have it, there is no sign of that stopping anytime soon. The Cardinals have been owned by the Bidwill family since 1932. Only two teams, the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears, have been controlled by one family longer. For much of the Cardinals' history, they were owned and ran by Bill Bidwill, who inherited the team in 1962 and ran the team until he passed away in 2019. By that time, he had ceded much of the day-to-day operations of the Cardinals to his son, Michael. In his almost 60 years as the owner of the Cardinals, the team made the playoffs eight times and had only nine winning seasons. This was largely due to his miserly ways, as the Cardinals were often among the lowest payrolls in the league. He would pinch pennies any way he could, all the while rolling his eyes at owners who obsessed over winning. He couldn't care less. Don't get it twisted though, this is not a Bill Bidwill slam-fest. He was a good man who was bad at sports, and if not for him, the Cardinals would have never made it to Arizona.
No no, this is not a Bill Bidwill roast. This a Michael Bidwill roast. His son, who has been involved with the team since 1996, and took over as principal owner in 2019, is the real subject of my column this week. As I said earlier, Michael was in control of much of the day-to-day activity of the Cardinals far before he became the principal owner. It was he who hired Steve Wilks, who would lead the Cardinals to their worst record in franchise history. Bidwill would fire him after only a year on the job. Who then was the coaching mastermind that Bidwill had lined up to take his job? Oh. It was former Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury. A man who, despite being one of the most prolific passers in the history of the Red Raider football program, got fired from his own alma mater after going 35-40 in his six seasons with Texas Tech. So far, he is 24-25-1 with the Cardinals. Of his 65 total losses, 45 have come after game 7 of the season. He has a long history of late season collapses, and yet, with one of the more talented rosters in the NFL, Bidwill has decided to keep Kingsbury around for a fourth season. Another season of Kyler Murray, Budda Baker, Deandre Hopkins, Zach Ertz, Rodney Hudson, Matt Prater, etc. down the drain. Those names are some of the best at their position in the NFL. The Cardinals have the roster to win now. But they won't. They won't because Michael Bidwill doesn't know how to. He does know how to do two things for sure, however. First, he knows how to purchase a Boeing 777 for the Cardinals to fly to games in. That makes the Cardinals one of only two teams to own their own plane (remember this team has been to the playoffs nine times in 62 seasons), a move that Bidwill says "will not only provide major convenience but also maximum comfort for our players when getting them to and from road games. Every NFL team is looking for advantages whenever possible and we think this will certainly provide one.” I wonder how many head coaches you could hire for the price of a commercial jet plane.
Second, he knows how to embarrass his young quarterback. Now, this isn't a column about the Kyler Murray social media fiasco. I'll save that for another time, but what I will say is that while Murray did not handle the situation correctly at all, neither did the Arizona Cardinals' front office, which of course, is led by our man Michael Bidwill. And, after all, who should be expected to be more professional: a 24-year-old kid, or a multi-billion dollar NFL franchise? I'll let you decide that one.
So, here we are. Another NFL offseason. For many NFL fans, it is a time of hope. A time to try and cleanse our minds of the past and be hopeful for the future. Not here in Arizona though, us Cardinals fans are not so lucky. We get to look forward to another season of some of the greatest talents in the NFL show flashes of brilliance, all to just skid at the end of a season and maybe, just maybe, back into the playoffs. But hey, nice plane.