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Why Kingsbury Can Succeed

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Arizona Cardinals Introduce Kliff Kingsbury - Press Conference Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

One of the most fascinating and relevant books I’ve read in recent years is A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, by Daniel L. Pink. Pink theorizes that in today’s world and in the future market place—-creative, right-brain thinkers will dominate the top positions and be in the highest demand.

Over the past three years, we can see the application of Pink’s theory with regard to the new coaching trends in the NFL.

Creativity defines what the cutting edge is—-and it often gives a team and its players a competitive advantage.

Creativity bolsters team morale.

Fact: Kliff Kingsbury is one of the most creative offensive innovators on planet earth.

Fact: Kingsbury’s offensive designs at the college level have been hugely successful.

Fact: Kingsbury’s teams at Texas Tech lost more games than they won.

Fact: Kingsbury got fired after a losing season wherein his team was highly competitive, even versus ranked teams.

L-Mississippi 27-47

W-Lamar 77-0

W-Houston 63-49

W-Oklahoma St. 41-17

L-West Virginia 34-42

W-TCU 17-14

W-Kansas 48-16

L-24 Iowa St. 31-40

L-4 Oklahoma 46-51

L-15 Texas 34-41

L-Kansas St. 6-21

L Baylor 24-35

5-7 record—-note that Kingsbury lost his starting QB, freshman Alan Bowman, to a punctured lung in the West Virginia game, which the Red Raiders still only lost by 8 points. The next week Kingsbury’s squad won in an upset over TCU behind backup sophomore QB Jett Duffey.

Then, after Bowman returned, he was re-injured before half-time of the Oklahoma game with Texas Tech leading 31-28 and Bowman leading the way on 21-26 passing for 227 yards and 2 TDs. That was it for Bowman. He was lost for the season and did not play in the last three games, all loses. The freshman passed for 227/327/ 2.638yards @ 69.4%/ 17 TDs to 7 ints.

Despite a 5-7 record, Texas Tech had a +75 point differential: 448-373. They averaged 37.3 points per game...and their starting freshman QB missed 4 12 games.

What’s interesting about today’s high scoring offenses in the NFL is that all 4 teams that remain, the Patriots, Chiefs, Saints and Rams are ranked in the bottom half of the league in yards per play on defense: Rams-28th; Chiefs-24th; Patriots-20th and Saints-18th.

When you look at the makeup of these 4 coaching staffs—-

Patriots—-Bill Belichick HC (19 years) + Josh McDaniels OC (11 years) + Tom Brady QB (19 years)

Chiefs—-Andy Reid HC (6 years) + Bob Sutton DC (6 years) + Patrick Mahomes QB (2 years)

Saints—-Sean Payton HC (13 years) + Dennis Allen DC (4 years) + Drew Brees QB (13 years)

Rams—-Sean McVay HC (2 years) + Wade Phillips DC (2 years) + Jared Goff (3 years)

  • The impressive continuity of the veteran trios in New England and New Orleans jump out.
  • The continuity in Kansas City jumps out too—-especially seeing they have the #1 seed in the AFC with a 2nd year QB.
  • The outlier here is Sean McVay in his 2nd year and winning with a 3rd year QB—-this is what gives hope to young coaches like Matt Nagy and Kliff Kingsbury who are working with young QBs.

In essense, because head coaches are becoming more and more specialized, the defensive coordinators are like second head coaches. It helps that Wade Phillips and Dennis Allen have been head coaches—-Bob Sutton was the head coach at Army for 10 years and was an assistant head coach with the Jets. Where the pattern is flipped in New England, it helps that Josh McDaniels was once a head coach.

These common denominators suggest that Kingsbury can be successful with a young QB if his offense is high scoring and his defense is well coached by a former head coach in Vance Joseph. It doesn’t matter so much that the former head coaches were not highly successful in that role (Phillips, Allen, McDaniels, Sutton and Joseph), what matters is that they have the knowledge, the experience and the gravitas to hold up their end of the bargain.

In Daniel L. Pink’s book, he links 6 senses to creative success:

  1. Creative Design—-at Texas Tech, Kingsbury was known for coming up with 3-4 new innovative plays a week. Remember the time when Kurt Warner and Todd Haley drew up the flea flicker to Larry Fitzgerald on the plane ride to Atlanta?
  2. Story—-which speaks to the kind of narrative that Kingsbury gives to his players, as in why these designs will work and why they will give the team a competitive advantage.
  3. Synthesis—-putting the details of the design into practice and executing them in games.
  4. Empathy—-Kingsbury, when asked about his 35-40 record at Texas Tech said he loved his players at Texas Tech. Anyone who has coached young men through losing seasons knows the effort and pain those players have battled through. Empathy is what drove Eagles’ HC Doug Pederson to hug WR Alshon Jeffery yesterday. Yes, the best coaches are not afraid to feel for their players and even admit when they make mistakes.
  5. Play—-the work environment is all the more exciting when coaches engage the players in team morale building exercises. Kingsbury is superb at this. Check out this video (especially the ending!):

6. Meaning—-when coaches take the time and effort to get to know their players, it gives added meaning and enthusiasm to the team experience. Yes, Kingsbury was dubbed “Coach Bro’” at Texas A&M and it carried over to Texas Tech, but it’s more because of how young Kingsbury is. Players would never call BA “Coach Bro,’” but they are quick to call him “Cool Uncle.” Bill Parcells, when he was a young coach with Giants, was a “Coach Bro’”...so is Sean McVay...and so is any coach who believes in establishing a meaningful rapport with the players.

When looking at Daniel L. Pink’s 6 senses of creative genius, they appear to be a fitting outline of Kliff Kingsbury’s coaching strengths—-that is—-as long as he remains unafraid of being himself. It’s very ok these days to be young—-and—-creative.

(Thanks to Steve Herman for the video)