Updated date:

Best Head Coaches in Arizona Cardinals History

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians (left), who had a lengthy tenure with the Arizona Cardinals, greets Cardinals coach, Kliff Kingsbury, after a 2019 game at Raymond James Stadium.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians (left), who had a lengthy tenure with the Arizona Cardinals, greets Cardinals coach, Kliff Kingsbury, after a 2019 game at Raymond James Stadium.

Who Are the Greatest Head Coaches in Arizona Cardinals History?

The success or failure of a National Football League franchise often rests on the shoulders of the team's head coach. The ultimate goal for any franchise's front office, of course, is to hire a head coach who can balance on-field and off-the-field responsibilities to build a winning roster and playbook. The Arizona Cardinals have been in business for 100 years (first as the Chicago Cardinals from 1920–59, then as the St. Louis Cardinals from 1960–87, then as the Phoenix Cardinals from 1988–93, and finally as the Arizona Cardinals since 1994), and while success has been limited, the team has hired several prominent head coaches.

The Cardinals won NFL championships in 1925 and 1947, but playoff success was all but nonexistent again until the late 2000s. It was in 2008 that the Cardinals made the only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, narrowly losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the mid-2010s, the Cardinals had another resurgence, posting the greatest regular seasons in team history in each 2014 and '15, and making the National Football Conference Championship Game in '15. Naturally, the coaches from these great moments are among the best ever in franchise history.

Selection Criteria for This List

There were some difficult choices when it came to ranking the best head coaches in Arizona Cardinals history, as many of the top coaches have similar credentials. To help narrow things down, criteria used to make this list included:

  • Legacy Honors (Hall of Fame, Ring of Honor, etc.)
  • Coaching success (winning percentage, postseason appearances, etc.)
  • Longevity (years spent with the Cardinals)

Only games coached with the Cardinals are factored into this list, so while Hall of Famer Curly Lambeau won six championships with the Green Bay Packers, his 7–15 mark over two seasons with the Cardinals won't make the cut here. So without further ado, let's count down the five best head coaches in Arizona Cardinals history! Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on these selections.

"Paddy" Driscoll (center, holding ball) is shown with the 1920 Chicago Cardinals football team.

"Paddy" Driscoll (center, holding ball) is shown with the 1920 Chicago Cardinals football team.

5. "Paddy" Driscoll

  • Years Coached With the Cardinals: 1920–22
  • Record: 17-8-4
  • Legacy Honors: Cardinals Ring of Honor

In the summer of 1920, the New York Giants of Major League Baseball had offered John "Paddy" Driscoll a contract to join their club as an outfielder. Because Driscoll was already signed by a semi-professional team in Chicago, he refused to switch teams. But when that semi-pro contract ran out in September, Driscoll was snatched by the Racine Cardinals instead, where he became head coach and quarterback. He'd promptly leave baseball behind and lead the Cardinals through three successful seasons before focusing exclusively on being their quarterback.

In 1920—which is widely considered the inaugural season of the NFL—Driscoll became the first-ever first-team All-Pro quarterback, while leading the Cardinals to a 7-2-2 record and a fourth-place finish in the standings. After two more winning seasons, Driscoll surrendered coaching duties to teammate, Arnold "Arnie" Horween. By helping establish the franchise as a contender, however, he put together the foundation that was needed for the Cardinals to claim the 1925 NFL championship.

"Paddy" Driscoll's Coaching Record With the Cardinals

YearGWLTWinning %

1922

11

8

3

0

0.727

1921

8

3

3

2

0.500

1920

10

6

2

2

0.750

Former Arizona Cardinals head coach, Bruce Arians, talks to quarterback, Carson Palmer (3), during a 2017 game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

Former Arizona Cardinals head coach, Bruce Arians, talks to quarterback, Carson Palmer (3), during a 2017 game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

4. Bruce Arians

  • Years Coached With the Cardinals: 2013–17
  • Record: 49-30-1
  • Playoff Appearances: 2014–15
  • Awards: AP Head Coach of the Year (2014)

After a successful tenure as the interim head coach of the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, the Arizona Cardinals signed Bruce Arians to a four-year contract to fill their coaching vacancy for the 2013 season. Arians rewarded the franchise by becoming the most successful first-year head coach in team history, and then by leading the Cardinals to the postseason the following two seasons. He was just 1–2 in the playoffs, but does hold the franchise's record with 49 career victories.

In 2012, the Cardinals finished last in the NFL in total offense, so bringing in Arians—a long-time offensive coordinator who won a Super Bowl while coaching for the Pittsburgh Steelers—to turn around that performance was an easy decision. By his third season, Arizona gained more offensive yards than any team in the league and was No. 2 in scoring offense. The team's 13–3 mark that year established a new franchise record, but for the second season in a row, the Cardinals failed to win the conference championship. That was the third year in a row that Arians had led the Cardinals to at least 10 victories, and made him the fourth head man in franchise history to post three straight winning seasons. In the two seasons that followed, however, the Cardinals toiled around the .500 mark, and Arians retired after the 2017 season (though he came out of retirement to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019).

Bruce Arians' Coaching Record With the Cardinals

YearGWLTWinning %

2017

16

8

8

0

0.500

2016

16

7

8

1

0.469

2015

16

13

3

0

0.813

2014

16

11

5

0

0.688

2013

16

10

6

0

0.625

Former Arizona Cardinals head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, watches the action in 2017 as the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers. He remains the only head coach to ever take the Cardinals to a Super Bowl.

Former Arizona Cardinals head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, watches the action in 2017 as the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers. He remains the only head coach to ever take the Cardinals to a Super Bowl.

3. Ken Whisenhunt

  • Years Coached With the Cardinals: 2007–12
  • Record: 45–51
  • Playoff Appearances: 2008–09

No one has coached more games for the Arizona Cardinals than Kenneth "Ken" Whisenhunt—and he's also the only man to lead the Cardinals to the Super Bowl. Whisenhunt was at the helm for 96 games over 6 seasons with Arizona, and in 2008, led his team to Super Bowl XLIII. Though the Cardinals lost that game to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the season is remembered as one of the best ever for the franchise. Arizona finished just 9–7 that season, sneaking into the playoffs as a division champion before reeling off three straight wins to claim the NFC championship. Whisenhunt finished his tenure with more victories than any other coach in franchise history (he was surpassed by Bruce Arians in 2017) and has coached more playoff games than anyone in team history (6).

The Cardinals gave Whisenhunt his first head coaching job. Whisenhunt had found success as an assistant coach, winning Super Bowl XL as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator. Arizona hoped Whisenhunt would establish some success for the franchise, which had just one winning season since coming to Phoenix in 1988 and one playoff victory since winning the 1947 NFL championship. The Cardinals came into the 2007 season after back-to-back 5–11 finishes, and Whisenhunt immediately boosted the team to a .500 record. After getting Arizona into the Super Bowl the next season, Whisenhunt engineered another division championship in 2009 but took a loss in the second round of the postseason. Whisenhunt was unable to push the Cardinals back over .500 in each of the next three seasons, and he was fired after the 2012 season.

Ken Whisenhunt's Coaching Record With the Cardinals

YearGWLTWinning %

2012

16

5

11

0

0.313

2011

16

8

8

0

0.500

2010

16

5

11

0

0.313

2009

16

10

6

0

0.625

2008

16

9

7

0

0.563

2007

16

8

8

0

0.500

2. Jimmy Conzelman

  • Years Coached With the Cardinals: 1940–42, 1946–48
  • Record: 31-31-3
  • Playoff Appearances: 1947–48
  • Championships: 1947
  • Awards: Sporting News Coach of the Year (1947)
  • Legacy Honors: Hall of Fame (1964), Cardinals Ring of Honor

The last head coach to lead the Cardinals to a championship was James "Jimmy" Conzelman, who led his Chicago squad to the 1947 NFL title in his second stint as the team's head coach. His first three seasons were marked by sub-par performances, and his Cardinals mustered just eight wins in that span. After transitioning to Major League Baseball as a front office executive for the St. Louis Browns from 1943–45, the Cardinals convinced Conzelman to return for a second stint as head coach. That is when he would inherit the famed "Million-Dollar Backfield" and turned the Cardinals into a serious championship contender.

Conzelman built a bruising offense around Hall of Fame running back Charley Trippi to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 28–21, to claim the 1947 NFL title. The next season, the Cardinals went 11–1 in the regular season, but lost to the Eagles in the championship game. The 7–0 loss is known for being played in a severe snowstorm. In January 1949, Conzelman abruptly resigned to focus on a post-football career in advertising, despite having a year left on his contract. In his resignation letter, Conzelman cited family reasons as a primary driver of his decision. "Jim's resignation was accepted reluctantly," team president Ray C. Benningsen said, "accepted only out of respect to his desire to retire to a life which will not make such great demands on him physically" (Chamberlain, 1949).

Jimmy Conzelman's Coaching Record With the Cardinals

YearGWLTWinning %

1948

12

11

1

0

0.917

1947

12

9

3

0

0.750

1946

11

6

5

0

0.545

1942

11

3

8

0

0.273

1941

11

3

7

1

0.300

1940

11

2

7

2

0.222

1. Don Coryell

  • Years Coached With the Cardinals: 1973–77
  • Record: 42-27-1
  • Playoff Appearances: 1974–75
  • Awards: AP NFL Coach of the Year (1974)

In the 24 years between the last postseason appearance for the Cardinals in 1948 and another head coaching vacancy for the 1973 season, the franchise had finished with a winning record just 8 times and placed last in the division in 5 seasons. Change was desperately desired by owner, Bill Bidwell, and change is what the franchise got by hiring long-time San Diego State University head man, Donald "Don" Coryell. As an offensive guru, Coryell revitalized the Cardinals, pushing them to three straight 10-win seasons from 1974–76 and a pair of postseason appearances. He repaired a dormant offense that ranked near the bottom of the league in 1971 and ‘72.

At SDSU, Coryell built a reputation as a winner, taking the Aztecs to three unbeaten seasons and three championships, while compiling a 104-19-2 record over 12 seasons. When he was hired by the Cardinals, 20 of his former players were in the NFL—including Jeff Staggs and Marty Imhoff in St. Louis. “I’m just tickled to death that he’s with the Cardinals,” Staggs said. “I decided to go to San Diego State College because I was so impressed with his honesty. And everything he promised me he fulfilled. He has the players’ best interests foremost in his mind. His approach to the game is so professional” (Meyers, 1973).

After the Cardinals struggled in Coryell's first season at the helm, he transformed them into a winner known as the "Cardiac Cardinals." St. Louis won at least 10 games each of the next three seasons but couldn't find a victory in the playoffs. Still, his offensive philosophy turned players such as quarterback Jim Hart, return man and receiver Mel Gray, running back Jim Otis, and offensive lineman Dan Dierdorf, into superstars. Coryell and the franchise had a falling out after a .500 finish in 1977. He became the head coach of the San Diego Chargers in 1978, and led them to four postseason appearances. Despite all of his successes, Coryell has not been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Don Coryell's Coaching Record With the Cardinals

YearGWLTWinning %

1977

14

7

7

0

0.500

1976

14

10

4

0

0.714

1975

14

11

3

0

0.786

1974

14

10

4

0

0.714

1973

14

4

9

1

0.321

Honorable Mentions

The following head coaches left an indelible mark on Arizona Cardinals history, but didn't quite make the top five.

Jim Hanifan (1980–85)

James "Jim" Hanifan is one of just three coaches in franchise history to coach for six seasons, but he only had one playoff appearance to show for it. That came in the strike-shortened 1982 season, but the Cardinals lost to the Green Bay Packers in the opening round. His team went 8-7-1 the following season, and then just missed a playoff spot with a 9–7 mark in 1984. He was 39-49-1 overall, and those 89 games as head coach served as a franchise record until 2012.

Norman Barry (1925–26)

The architect of the first championship in Cardinals history was Norman Berry, who led Chicago to the best record in the NFL in 1925 (11-2-1). Overall, in two seasons, Berry posted a 16-8-2 record. Following his career in the NFL, Barry became a lawyer, Illinois state senator, and judge.

Vince Tobin (1996–2000)

It was Vincent "Vince" Tobin who ended the franchise's 50-year drought without a playoff victory by knocking off the Dallas Cowboys in 1998. That was the only winning season of Tobin's tenure, however, as he only put together a meager 28–43 overall record in 4½ seasons.

Arizona Cardinals head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, gives directions to rookie quarterback, Kyler Murray (1), in a 2019 game against the Detroit Lions at State Farm Stadium. A former quarterback, Kingsbury has been entrusted to develop Murray into a star,

Arizona Cardinals head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, gives directions to rookie quarterback, Kyler Murray (1), in a 2019 game against the Detroit Lions at State Farm Stadium. A former quarterback, Kingsbury has been entrusted to develop Murray into a star,

How Many Head Coaches Have the Arizona Cardinals Had?

There have been 40 head coaches in the the history of the Arizona Cardinals franchise, which has also played as the Chicago Cardinals, St. Louis Cardinals, and Phoenix Cardinals. There have been several seasons in team history when there were multiple co-coaches instead of one head coach.

Who Is the Current Head Coach of the Arizona Cardinals?

Kliff Kingsbury is currently the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. He was hired on January 8, 2019, taking his first coaching job in the NFL after a lengthy tenure as the head coach of Texas Tech.

Arizona Cardinals Head Coach History

*Ivy had three co-coaches for two games in 1961 . . . ^Handler was a co-coach in these seasons . . . +Handler and Kiesling were co-coaches of Card-Pitt, a combined team of players from the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers during World War II

YearCoachGWLTWinning %

2019

Kliff Kingsbury

16

5

10

1

0.344

2018

Steve Wilks

16

3

13

0

0.188

2017

Bruce Arians

16

8

8

0

0.500

2016

Bruce Arians

16

7

8

1

0.469

2015

Bruce Arians

16

13

3

0

0.813

2014

Bruce Arians

16

11

5

0

0.688

2013

Bruce Arians

16

10

6

0

0.625

2012

Ken Whisenhunt

16

5

11

0

0.313

2011

Ken Whisenhunt

16

8

8

0

0.500

2010

Ken Whisenhunt

16

5

11

0

0.313

2009

Ken Whisenhunt

16

10

6

0

0.625

2008

Ken Whisenhunt

16

9

7

0

0.563

2007

Ken Whisenhunt

16

8

8

0

0.500

2006

Dennis Green

16

5

11

0

0.313

2005

Dennis Green

16

5

11

0

0.313

2004

Dennis Green

16

6

10

0

0.375

2003

Dave McGinnis

16

4

12

0

0.250

2002

Dave McGinnis

16

5

11

0

0.313

2001

Dave McGinnis

16

7

9

0

0.438

2000

Vince Tobin

7

2

5

0

0.286

2000

Dave McGinnis

9

1

8

0

0.111

1999

Vince Tobin

16

6

10

0

0.375

1998

Vince Tobin

16

9

7

0

0.563

1997

Vince Tobin

16

4

12

0

0.250

1996

Vince Tobin

16

7

9

0

0.438

1995

Buddy Ryan

16

4

12

0

0.250

1994

Buddy Ryan

16

8

8

0

0.500

1993

Joe Bugel

16

7

9

0

0.438

1992

Joe Bugel

16

4

12

0

0.250

1991

Joe Bugel

16

4

12

0

0.250

1990

Joe Bugel

16

5

11

0

0.313

1989

Hank Kuhlmann

5

0

5

0

0.000

1989

Gene Stallings

11

5

6

0

0.455

1988

Gene Stallings

16

7

9

0

0.438

1987

Gene Stallings

15

7

8

0

0.467

1986

Gene Stallings

16

4

11

1

0.281

1985

Jim Hanifan

16

5

11

0

0.313

1984

Jim Hanifan

16

9

7

0

0.563

1983

Jim Hanifan

16

8

7

1

0.531

1982

Jim Hanifan

9

5

4

0

0.556

1981

Jim Hanifan

16

7

9

0

0.438

1980

Jim Hanifan

16

5

11

0

0.313

1979

Bud Wilkinson

13

3

10

0

0.231

1979

Larry Wilson

3

2

1

0

0.667

1978

Bud Wilkinson

16

6

10

0

0.375

1977

Don Coryell

14

7

7

0

0.500

1976

Don Coryell

14

10

4

0

0.714

1975

Don Coryell

14

11

3

0

0.786

1974

Don Coryell

14

10

4

0

0.714

1973

Don Coryell

14

4

9

1

0.321

1972

Bob Hollway

14

4

9

1

0.321

1971

Bob Hollway

14

4

9

1

0.308

1970

Charley Winner

14

8

5

1

0.615

1969

Charley Winner

14

4

9

1

0.308

1968

Charley Winner

14

9

4

1

0.692

1967

Charley Winner

14

6

7

1

0.462

1966

Charley Winner

14

8

5

1

0.615

1965

Wally Lemm

14

5

9

0

0.357

1964

Wally Lemm

14

9

3

2

0.750

1963

Wally Lemm

14

9

5

0

0.643

1962

Wally Lemm

14

4

9

1

0.308

1961*

Pop Ivy

12

5

7

0

0.417

1961*

Ray Prochaska

2

2

0

0

1.000

1961*

Ray Willsey

2

2

0

0

1.000

1961*

Chuck Drulis

2

2

0

0

1.000

1960

Pop Ivy

12

6

5

1

0.545

1959

Pop Ivy

12

2

10

0

0.167

1958

Pop Ivy

12

2

9

1

0.182

1957

Ray Richards

12

3

9

0

0.250

1956

Ray Richards

12

7

5

0

0.583

1955

Ray Richards

12

4

7

1

0.364

1954

Joe Stydahar

12

2

10

0

0.167

1953

Joe Stydahar

12

1

10

1

0.091

1952

Joe Kuharich

12

4

8

0

0.333

1951

Curly Lambeau

10

2

8

0

0.200

1951^

Phil Handler

2

1

1

0

0.500

1951

Cecil Isbell

2

1

1

0

0.500

1950

Curly Lambeau

12

5

7

0

0.417

1949

Buddy Parker

12

6

5

1

0.545

1949^

Phil Handler

6

2

4

0

0.333

1948

Jimmy Conzelman

12

11

1

0

0.917

1947

Jimmy Conzelman

12

9

3

0

0.750

1946

Jimmy Conzelman

11

6

5

0

0.545

1945

Phil Handler

10

1

9

0

0.100

1944+

Phil Handler

10

0

10

0

0.000

1944+

Walt Kiesling

10

0

10

0

0.000

1943

Phil Handler

10

0

10

0

0.000

1942

Jimmy Conzelman

11

3

8

0

0.273

1941

Jimmy Conzelman

11

3

7

1

0.300

1940

Jimmy Conzelman

11

2

7

2

0.222

1939

Ernie Nevers

11

1

10

0

0.091

1938

Milan Creighton

11

2

9

0

0.182

1937

Milan Creighton

11

5

5

1

0.500

1936

Milan Creighton

12

3

8

1

0.273

1935

Milan Creighton

12

6

4

2

0.600

1934

Paul Schissler

11

5

6

0

0.455

1933

Paul Schissler

11

1

9

1

0.100

1932

Jack Chevigny

10

2

6

2

0.250

1931

Roy Andrews

1

0

1

0

0.000

1931

Ernie Nevers

8

5

3

0

0.625

1930

Ernie Nevers

13

5

6

2

0.455

1929

Dewey Scanlon

13

6

6

1

0.500

1928

Fred Gillies

6

1

5

0

0.167

1927

Guy Chamberlin

11

3

7

1

0.300

1926

Norm Barry

12

5

6

1

0.455

1925

Norm Barry

14

11

2

1

0.846

1924

Arnie Horween

10

5

4

1

0.556

1923

Arnie Horween

12

8

4

0

0.667

1922

Paddy Driscoll

11

8

3

0

0.727

1921

Paddy Driscoll

8

3

3

2

0.500

1920

Paddy Driscoll

10

6

2

2

0.750

Former Arizona Cardinals head coach, Steve Wilks, is seen during a 2018 game against the Seattle Seahawks. He became the first head coach for the Cardinals since the 1950s to last only one season in the role.

Former Arizona Cardinals head coach, Steve Wilks, is seen during a 2018 game against the Seattle Seahawks. He became the first head coach for the Cardinals since the 1950s to last only one season in the role.

Works Cited

Chamberlain, C. "Jimmy Conzelman Quits as Cards' Grid Coach." The Decatur Herald. pp. 6. January 8, 1949. Retrieved from Newspapers.com on March 3, 2020.

Meyers, J. “Coryell Promises Wide-Open Offense.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Pp. 1C-5C. January 19, 1973. Retrieved from Newspapers.com February 17, 2020.