Big Red Flashback 1980: Cards Hire Jim Hanifan

(Editor’s Note: Jim Hanifan became the Cardinals head coach on January 30, 1980. Below is Coach Hanifan’s account of how he was hired. It was taken from an excerpt of his book Beyond Xs and Os: My Thirty Years in the NFL)

My name had come up when there were openings for head coaching jobs in the NFL, and i really thought if I kept my nose clean I would have a shot at getting one of those jobs. I just didn’t think it would be in St. Louis.

Even though I really did want the job, it still caught me a little off guard when Don (Coryell) walked into my office and said Bill (Bidwill) had called to request permission to speak with me. I didn’t hear from him until a week later. We were coaching at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, and after the game I was back in my hotel room packing and getting ready to leave for the airport when Bill called. We agreed to meet two days later in San Diego.

The day that Bill arrived, it was pouring down rain. I agreed to meet him in a parking lot, because he wanted to be very secretive. I told him to follow me, and we would stop off and have lunch at a Mexican restaurant that was on the way to my house. It was managed by my friend Ray Ogas, who now works for the Rams.

I had not told Ray I was meeting with Bill, and when the two of us walked in for this secretive meeting, the first words out of Ray’s mouth were, “Oh hi, Mr. Bidwill, how are you?” I thought, this was a mistake, but we sat down and had a good meal. Bill was all paranoid that the word was going to get out he was meeting with me, but I told him Ray wouldn’t say a word, and he didn’t.

It was still raining like a son of a gun, and I told Bill to follow me to my house. Mariana knew I was meeting with Bill, but she didn’t know we would be coming back to the house. Because of the rain, our swimming pool was overflowing. We also had a creek right by our house, and the water had risen out of its banks. It was a flash flood in our back yard. Mariana was out there in this bright yellow slicker trying to keep the water away from the house. I didn’t know if we were about to float away or not.

Bill started to talk about a contract, and told me what he was thinking, and I gave him my counter response regarding years and salary. We were in the kitchen, with all this commotion going on in the house. Mariana had come inside and her hair was soaking wet. Jimmy, who was three, was running around, we had cats and dogs and Jimmy had pet rats at the time.; it was a real zoo. All of a sudden Bill stood up and said, “Well guess what Jim?” and I said, “What?” and he said, “You’re the new head coach of the St. Louis football Cardinals.”

I looked at him and said “You’re kidding me?” He said no, I was the guy he wanted, and I said, “Well, God bless you. I will try my best to do as good a job as I can possibly do.”

We came back to St. Louis the next day and Bill wanted to keep it a secret. We were picked up away from the airport terminal by a van and whisked off to a hotel, where the team had called a news conference to make the announcement. It was an emotional time, and I won’t apologize for being emotional. I definitely was crying tears of joy.

Even though I had only been gone a year, I found out a lot had changed with the team, mainly attitude. Because the team had not been successful for a few years, the team was not playing with that confidence that had exuded Don’s teams. I knew we had to get that back if we were going to be successful. We needed to make it a fun environment and put the fellows in positions where they had the greatest chances to succeed.

In one of my first news conferences, one of the reporters was all serious and asked questions about the pressure of being a head coach. I said, “Why don’t you guys relax? There is no pressure about being the head coach. I’ve been facing pressure since I was 15 years old.” The only difference in pressure between being an assistant coach and the head coach is having to answer to the owner. You also have to meet with the media, and they both want the same thing—answers—if things don’t go the way you had planned. Why did you call this, why did you do that? I had enough confidence in myself to know that I could do that.

(Editor’s Note: Jim Hanifan was Cardinals head coach from 1980-1985 and had a record of 39-49-1. The Cards best season under Hanifan was 1984 when they finished a game away from winning the NFC East title and earning a home playoff game at Busch Stadium. Coach was one of the greatest offensive line coaches of all-time and won Super Bowl Rings with Washington in 1991 and the St. Louis Rams in 1999. Coach Hanifan passed away on November 24, 2020 at the age of 87)

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