Just a couple of days ago, our own Justin Melo explained why he believes that Carolina Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule would be the first head coach fired in the 2022 season. Justin is a great coworker and a fantastic writer, but he’s wrong here. Instead, it’s Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury that will find himself out of a job first.
It’s very easy to point to Rhule as the more likely candidate to be fired first. He’s the favorite in betting odds (+300) because he’s overseen an era of Carolina football that has been completely without success. Since taking over for Ron Rivera, Rhule has led the Panthers to a 10-23 record with little hope on the horizon given their quarterback is still Sam Darnold and their new offensive coordinator is Ben McAdoo.
All of that is clearly bad and not at all an image of success, but the weirdest part of it all is how much support Rhule continues to get from Panthers owner David Tepper. Rhule signed a seven-year contract when he was hired in 2020, and from then until now, Tepper has continued to say that it could take as many as five years to build a winning product on the field. As recently as two months ago, Tepper doubled down and added that it might even take six years.
As weird and nonsensical as it may be, there’s no doubt Tepper and Rhule have a tight connection, which gives the head coach a much longer leash than he might deserve. It’s hard to believe that a guy as stubborn as Tepper would backtrack on his commitment to Rhule after consistently giving him his support. The two clearly have a bond, and it would honestly be surprising if Rhule was fired in the middle of the season.
On the other hand, Kingsbury is truly on the hottest seat of any head coach entering this year even after signing a six-year contract extension this offseason. In three years at the helm in Arizona, Kingsbury has led the Cardinals to a .500 record of 24-24-1.
Playoff success hasn’t come with an even regular season record though, as Arizona has only made the playoffs once under Kingsbury and it was as a wild card team. Of course, that was just last season and the Cardinals were quickly eliminated from the playoffs when they faced off against their divisional rivals, the Rams, in the Wild Card Round.
The Rams went on to win the Super Bowl while the Cardinals’ performance in that game was frankly pitiful. It was especially disappointing for a playoff team that had won 11 regular season games playing a divisional opponent.
On top of the lack of playoff success is Kingsbury’s history of second-half collapses that date back even to his time at Texas Tech. In his three seasons with the Cardinals, Arizona has had a collective 10-17 record after their seventh game of the season but a 15-5-1 record in their first seven games. In 2020, the Cardinals’ late-season collapse cost them a playoff spot. In 2021, it cost them a divisional title.
Kingsbury’s lack of in-season adjustments put him in danger of an incredibly disappointing season if the Cardinals have a rough start in 2022. Considering their tough schedule start—they play the Chiefs, Raiders, Rams and Eagles in the first five weeks—and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ six-game suspension to start the year, that rough start could certainly happen.
Anything short of another playoff appearance would be a failure for the Cardinals, so Kingsbury’s leash is already much shorter than Rhule’s. His history of poor second-half performances could hurt him too, so a 1-4 stumble out of the gate could spell the end of his tenure in the desert.