Darren Urban is the Cardinals’ beat writer for the team website, and has covered the team since 2000. He took some time to answer questions from The Big Lead about the early days of the Kyler Murray-Kliff Kingsbury partnership, how David Johnson might bounce back this year, and more.
Liam McKeone: Hi Darren, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. In your own words, describe your journey from when you first realized you wanted to enter sports media and how you ended up where you are now, covering the Cardinals for the 20th year.
Darren Urban: I wanted to be a sportswriter from a young age, maybe 9 or 10. I grew up in Arizona and at that point, the only local sports were the Phoenix Suns, ASU football/hoops and the minor league Giants. My parents subscribed to the afternoon Phoenix Gazette and I’d grab the Suns’ box scores and write my own “game stories.” No quotes, of course.
So that was always my goal (because, too, I realized I wasn’t much of an athlete to go very far.) Worked at my high school newspaper, went to Arizona State and worked on the State Press there and so was always aiming to be in the business – which at that point looked a heck of a lot different than it does now, of course.
I worked at a couple smaller newspapers in Scottsdale and Flagstaff before landing with the East Valley Tribune covering high school sports. I was at the Trib for almost 13 years, working my way up. Had a season covering the NHL Coyotes, had a year where I essentially worked as the backup pro guy for all four pro sports (the Valley had changed over those 20-plus years) and eventually got the Cardinals beat in 2000.
In 2007, the Cardinals were looking for a writer with experience to do it for their website. I was leery at first to make the transition and jump the fence. But it was a big raise and stability, something driven home when the Tribune told all its staffers about a year later they’d be laying off 95 percent of the company. I would’ve been out of a job too. Instead, I’m here, covering this team 20 years in. I know there are some differences, but I’ve been very lucky to work for an organization that is willing to allow me to write what I need to write. I know I’ll get people that will argue with me, but I still consider what I do journalism. And given where media – especially sports media – has gone, the lines are increasingly blurry everywhere. Just depends on the lines at which you’re looking.
Five Big Things
McKeone: Kyler Murray is obviously the most important player for this franchise right now. Week 1 was up-and-down, as we’d expect from a rookie. From what you’ve seen so far, what areas does he need to work on the most to make that leap from potential to production?
Urban: He’s a rookie. He needs to figure out what it takes to be a quarterback in this league, which is no different than Baker Mayfield or Cam Newton or Peyton Manning before him. It’s one game, but I think Kyler is getting a better feel for the speed – like it’s going to be tough to scramble and just turn the corner for positive yards if a pass breaks down. The passing windows close quicker. It’s all the basic stuff which, like I said, every QB has to learn. But I do think what was seen in the fourth quarter against the Lions was a good example of what he is capable. Watching him all offseason, he has the temperament, mindset and skillset to be a great quarterback. I see what the Cards see. Whether he gets there is up to him and the organization, but he was the right pick.
McKeone: Kyler is the No. 1 guy, but the franchise has put a lot of faith into Kliff Kingsbury. What does he bring to the table as a head coach, and how has the environment changed so far from last year to this year with him at the helm?
Urban: Kingsbury is, in a lot of ways with a head coach who just turned 40, what you would expect. He’s only a few years older than Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs, two of his players (He was actually in the same draft class as Suggs). Environmentally, there is more of a players-type feel, which isn’t unexpected given Kingsbury’s age. But overall, offensively especially, he brought with him a hope that had disappeared last year. No one really knows what level of success Kingsbury’s schemes and playcalling will have, but the players have bought in. Assuming they build on the end of that first game, I’d expect that to continue.
McKeone: Outside of Murray, which rookies (if any) have stood out to you so far, and seem primed to make a big impact this year?
Urban: Already they have two other rookies starting, cornerback Byron Murphy and defensive lineman Zach Allen. Murphy looked pretty solid in the opener and he brings with him a willingness to tackle and the ability to thump guys, which has been rare at that position. Allen is a workhorse pressed into service after the camp release of Darius Philon, but I think he will eventually turn into a solid pro. The one guy who has made an impression since he was drafted is wide receiver KeeSean Johnson – yes, there’s another one – who is an excellent route runner even if he isn’t a burner. I’m not sure if he loses some time with Michael Crabtree getting up to speed, but he and Murray already have a chemistry that will only get better.
Urban: It certainly doesn’t hurt. Suggs’ personality makes an impact as soon as he enters the locker room, and his reputation and success precedes him. The Cards aren’t as young on defense as offense, but he helps and he makes a nice tag-team partner with Chandler Jones. Fitz is Fitz. He’s developed into quite a leader (which wasn’t his cup of tea earlier in his career) and his work ethic alone is enough as an example to younger players. But he’ll say something to guys if needed. Besides, I think in this offense – as we saw in the opener – he can thrive and I’ve thought all along his numbers will get back close to the 100-1,000 level he was still at prior to last year’s lost offensive season.
McKeone: David Johnson may have a claim to the best individual player on the Cardinals right now. We got a glimpse in Week 1, but going forward, how will Kingsbury utilize Johnson after last year’s coaching staff seemed to be unable to reach his full potential?
Urban: The right way. Johnson’s game was still coming back online last year after missing all of 2017, but clearly, he was not used as he should’ve been. That’s changing. One look at where he lined up against the Lions proved that. He’ll be back out as a receiver sometimes, and he’ll be on the field a ton. Kingsbury knows what a weapon he has in Johnson. And the way the Cards will spread the field, that should give Johnson even more room to run.
Five Little Things
McKeone: Favorite stadium in the NFL?
Urban: I’m there a ton, but the ease and simplicity in which you can get around State Farm Stadium for media is unmatched. The new spot in Minnesota is impressive, and I always have liked Seattle – both those places give you a look at downtown during the game, which I think is a cool feature.
McKeone: Go-to spot to eat in Phoenix/Glendale?
Urban: I’m an Oregano’s guy. I have some personal ties there, but you can’t beat the food, the prices are good, and there are locations around the Valley.
McKeone: Your favorite person to interview in your career?
Urban: That’s a tough one. There have been a ton over the years. The ones off the top of my head? Josh McCown. Adrian Wilson. Tyrann Mathieu. Tony Jefferson. Edgerrin James was fascinating. I could give a laundry list of guys who I have enjoyed interviewing. The Cardinals’ locker room over the years has had a remarkably low ratio of guys with whom were tough to deal.
McKeone: What’s one thing about this industry that you feel like other people don’t realize?
Urban: I think the media in general – not just sportswriting – has taken a lot of hits over the past few years, and I get it. But I think people don’t realize that the vast majority of people in this business are trying to get it right. The other thing I don’t think people realize is that, while there are a lot of popular aggregation sites (no offense intended), those sites are going to have a tough time if the boots-on-the-ground reporting fades. Everybody wants information, but no one wants to pay for it, and in the end, that’s going to make it tougher to get information.
McKeone: The industry has obviously changed significantly over the years, but is there anything about how the job works that you wish you knew back when you were starting out?
Urban: Not really. It’s about relationships, but if you don’t know that going in, you learn it pretty quick, and that’s only something that time can build. If you would’ve told me back in 1992-ish that newspapers would be dying at this rate, that might’ve impacted some thoughts. But in terms of the job, no. A good story is a good story still.