It’s not often you see one-and-done in the NFL coaching ranks but Steve Wilks joins a very short list of coaches who failed to make it a full year on the job after being let go by the Cardinals. While some regression was expected after Bruce Arians’ departure, the fact that Arizona was near the bottom in both offense and defense in 2018 seemed to seal the first-time head coach’s fate.
Where will ownership and the front office go from here? The job is among the more attractive gigs despite the team’s 4-12 record, sporting the No. 1 overall pick, an appealing rookie QB to build around and a decent amount of cap space heading into free agency.
Who could wind up replacing Wilks? Here are 12 candidates to watch that could be the Cardinals' next head coach:
The NFL assistants
Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator
He’s turned down other gigs just as good but the Cardinals at least have to inquire about McDaniels possibly leaving the nest in New England. He’s a perfect fit to tutor Josh Rosen and their personalities would mesh quite well too.
Brian Flores, Patriots defensive coordinator
Flores received one of his few head coaching interviews with the Cardinals back in January and could be back on the team’s radar. He’s got experience all over the Patriots organization and is widely viewed as the next up-and-comer out of the Bill Belichick coaching school. Will Arizona want to take another chance on somebody without significant experience though?
Jim Schwartz, Eagles defensive coordinator
He won a Super Bowl last year with Philadelphia and has head coaching experience, taking the Lions to the playoffs before the bottom fell out. Given the offensive minds in the division, leaning defense wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Cardinals and he has a chance to bring a top offensive mind in to handle that side of the ball too.
Freddie Kitchens, Browns offensive coordinator
His work with Baker Mayfield led to an interview in Cleveland for the top job and he’ll be in demand around the league as a result. Getting Rosen going is going to be a top priority and he’d have some fun weapons to work with that he can get the most out of like David Johnson.
Vic Fangio, Bears defensive coordinator
An in-demand interview this cycle, Fangio has put together tough defenses just about everywhere he’s gone. This is the window for him to get a head coaching job and he’s been at the forefront in slowing down a lot of the offensive trends in the game the past few years.
Dan Campbell, Saints tight ends coach
Showed what he can do during an interim stint with the Dolphins and has learned a lot from how Sean Payton runs the show in New Orleans. Still young enough to relate to players but also command their respect, he would be one of the top options if the team is looking for a well-rounded approach instead of going the coordinator route.
Zac Taylor, Rams QB coach
Been a big part of Jared Goff’s development at a division rival and has play-calling experience from an interim stint with the Dolphins. It’s only a matter of time before the Sean McVay tree starts to grow and the former Nebraska QB is widely viewed as the first to land a head coaching job.
Mike Munchak, Steelers offensive line coach
Munchak interviewed the last time the gig was open and could be a candidate once again. Has head coaching experience from his time with the Titans and could help boost the Cardinals' run game to take the pressure off Rosen.
The college coaches
Matt Rhule, Baylor head coach
Interviewed with the Colts last year and has NFL experience from his days with the Giants. He has coached on both sides of the ball and is a turnaround specialist the way he’s guided Temple and Baylor to bounce-back campaigns. An outside-the-box hire but ticks off a lot of boxes if dipping into the college ranks is an option.
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame head coach
Kelly has probably maxed out with the Irish and done a great job leading the historic powerhouse to two undefeated regular seasons. He’s creative on offense while flushing out a good run game and could be a good option to settle things down in the desert. He’s flirted with the NFL before (and even interviewed) and has won every at nearly every level of the game so far.
The ex-head coaches
Mike McCarthy, former Packers head coach
A home run if there ever was one, it’s not often you can grab a Super Bowl winner with plenty of experience developing young QBs. There’s no doubt things got stale at the end of his tenure in Green Bay but he’s the best option on the market if he’s open to a move west.
Jack Del Rio, former Raiders head coach
Took the Raiders to the playoffs just two years ago and has lengthy head coaching experience with rebuilding projects. He’s still getting paid by Oakland so he could be among the cheaper options that could allow Arizona to pony up for some big-name coordinators.
Mike Mularkey, former Titans head coach
He parted ways with Tennessee despite winning a playoff game with the franchise in his second full season. Has assembled some pretty good offenses in the past and can speak from experience as a former player.
Jim Caldwell, former Lions head coach
Has a winning record with the Colts and the similarly-tortured Lions, taking both to the playoffs and making a Super Bowl appearance with the former. Calm presence who would bring plenty of stability even if it won’t juice the fan base.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.