Closer look at Cards coaching candidates

A few thoughts on each of the known candidates for the Arizona Cardinals head coaching vacancy:

  • Andy Reid: Hiring Reid would have been the safest move for several reasons. Reid has 130 regular-season victories and a Super Bowl appearance, so he's proven. Reid could have assembled an experienced staff quickly. Arizona would have won the hiring-day news conference had Reid taken the job. Finding the next up-and-coming coach is tougher than identifying the established ones. Reid was the safest choice, but was he the best one? He favors a relatively traditional West Coast offense. Most of the league appears to be heading in another direction.

2013 Cardinals Coaching Search

  • Ray Horton: The Cardinals' defensive coordinator presumably remains in consideration while the team interviews other candidates. On-field results suggest he's done a very good job coordinating the Cardinals' defense. Some have hinted that Horton might be able to land Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, but it's unclear whether that is true. Horton has said he would hire someone to run the defense if Arizona promoted him to head coach. That would free up Horton to focus on being a head coach, but a trade-off could be weakening the one area where Horton could make the Cardinals strongest, on defense.

  • Mike McCoy: The Denver Broncos offensive coordinator will presumably remain occupied by the playoffs for as long as his current team remains in contention. He gets credit for successfully adapting the Broncos offense to Tim Tebow last season and Peyton Manning this season. McCoy previously spent most of his career with Carolina. The Panthers ranked near or below the NFL averages in third-down conversion rate, touchdowns, points per drive and NFL passer rating from 2004 through 2008, the years when McCoy coached quarterbacks or coordinated the passing game. McCoy is known for getting along well with others. He had a positive working relationship with Jake Delhomme and was instrumental behind the scenes in relating to mercurial wide receiver Steve Smith.

  • Jay Gruden: Gruden just finished his second season as the Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator. He played quarterback in college and should have a good feel for the position, a plus for the Cardinals as they try to improve behind center. Gruden's work with 2011 draft choice Andy Dalton works in Gruden's favor. Gruden, 45, had a winning record as a head coach in the Arena League. Dalton's postseason struggles (zero touchdowns, four interceptions) and overall ineffectiveness on third down may or may not reflect on Gruden. Dalton ranked 36th out of 36 qualifying quarterbacks in Total QBR on third down this season (10.5). Even Mark Sanchez was better (16.4). Arizona's Ryan Lindley (4.1) and John Skelton (1.4) were worse than Dalton, but neither played enough to qualify in the rankings. They were 38th and 39th, respectively, in third-down QBR among players with at least 50 pass attempts. Kevin Kolb was 33rd at 19.2.

  • Todd Haley: Haley wants the job, but he has been reluctant to embrace the process without first knowing how serious the Cardinals are about hiring him. The Cardinals have turned over much of their offensive roster since Haley left his job as the team's offensive coordinator following the 2008 season. Sure, Haley knows Larry Fitzgerald, but that isn't reason enough to hire a head coach. The Cardinals would have to feel Haley could help them identify talented quarterbacks and then develop them quickly. Haley was Kansas City's head coach when Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel tossed 27 touchdown passes with seven interceptions in 2010. The team finished 10-6. Cassel, despite a 93.0 NFL passer rating that year, graded out as merely average that season in Total QBR (52.2), however, and he no longer projects as a starter. That might actually reflect positively on Haley. Perhaps he was able to get a winning season from Cassel while other coaches could not. But as some have mentioned, Charlie Weis could have played a more prominent role. He was the Chiefs' offensive coordinator in 2010.

More to come as long as the wireless remains functional on my 5-hour, 41-minute flight from Washington, D.C., to Seattle.