Steelers Todd Haley still unwilling candidate to become next Arizona Cardinals head coach

Jared Wickerham

Like fighting quicksand, the more the Steelers current offensive coordinator struggles to deny rumors about his candidacy, he finds himself only drawn closer to becoming a former coordinator.

Todd Haley loves his job and the city of Pittsburgh, and he has no intentions of becoming the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

This is the shield Haley, the Steelers current offensive coordinator, has been using to deflect questions launched from rumors surrounding his candidacy for the head coaching job with one of his former employers. He has taken too many blows, and his shield is wearing thin. Now, the hypothetical strings are finding their way through, connecting dots between statements made through the media and the words left unsaid between the quoted lines.

Arizona had a list assembled of coaches they deemed worthy to lead their team into a new future when Black Monday rolled around, the first Monday after the regular season concludes when most teams fire coaches they wish to replace. First, they wanted former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid, but he never made it out of Kansas City before signing with the Chiefs after they fired Romeo Crennel who had replaced Todd Haley in 2012, after being Haley's defensive coordinator prior to Haley's termination.

Secondly, the Cardinals had their hopes set on Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, but as was the case with Reid, he never made it to Arizona. On Tuesday, McCoy agreed to become the new head coach of the San Diego Chargers, a division rival of his former employer. His move will force the Broncos to find a new OC, as well as a new secondary coach after deciding to not renew the contract of Ron Milus.

Having been stood up by their first two dates, the Cardinals are running out of options as other head coaching vacancies have been - or are being - filled. Bruce Arians is still being connected with the Eagles and the Chicago Bears; as is Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.

Arizona has named three finalists of the choices remaining for their coaching vacancy, which they expect to fill by Friday: Gruden, Cardinals current defensive coordinator Ray Horton, and Pittsburgh's Haley.

Horton is still being considered as the favorite for the job, although one would think if he was their first choice they would have signed him by now, instead of setting deadlines and publicly prioritizing interviews with other coaches who didn't even bother to appear. Horton certainly improved the Cardinals usually pathetic defense by developing new talent conceived through early draft selections, but the fact Arizona admittedly sought outsiders lends to belief ownership desired a different direction. It is unclear if Horton will remain as the defensive coordinator if the team hires Gruden, Haley or any other candidate who may wish to install their own assistants.

Another reason to suggest Horton may not end up with the job is the reason for the coaching change in the first place. The Cardinals offense has been worse than disappointing since the departure of Haley to Kansas City coincided with the retirement of Kurt Warner and the exits of Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. Superstar receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been patiently waiting for his team to reassemble a productive offense. The team will most likely prefer an offensive mind to steer their organization toward a more productive direction.

Gruden's name has been at the top of the B list this shopping season. While names like Reid, McCoy and Arians have dominated gossip circles, Gruden has been perceived as a solid backup plan. His offenses in Cincinnati have been productive with the Bengals making the playoffs both of the last two seasons. The difficulty with assessing Gruden is the amount of physical talent the Bengals prior failures have generated in players like A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham and Andy Dalton.

Haley, who served as offensive coordinator under recently fired Ken Whisenhunt when Arizona lost to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLIII, has been considered a candidate since the job became available, no matter how much he tries to refute the idea. Despite his respectful declination of any ideas about returning to head coaching, the Cardinals still requested an interview.

According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Haley informed Arizona he would not give up his coordinating position with Pittsburgh just for the sake of being a head coach again. It would take a significantly substantial monetary offer to make him change his mind. Considering the Cardinals need to turn around a disappointing team who played for a championship just four seasons ago, they may be willing to make such an offer if they believe Haley is the right man for the job - something they've said about him since his name first came up after Whisenhunt was fired.

ProFootballTalk reported the Cardinals may be shopping cheap, after hiring new general manager Steve Keim to a league-lowest $750,000 salary. Perhaps Arizona chose a low introductory offer, because they were expecting to spend big on a new coach and offensive assistants. The low salary of the new GM may also mean the Cardinals plan to give portions of personnel control to their new head coaching hire as a possible incentive in addition to dollar signs to lure a potential candidate away from any other predispositions.

As the Cardinals still expect to make a decision by the end of the week, expect second interviews to be scheduled with all three finalists - especially Haley.

Haley still insists he will be in Pittsburgh in 2013, and the Steelers are still preparing for their second season in his offensive scheme. However, commas and zeroes might yet prove best intentions actually pave the road to Arizona.

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