Today marks a brand new era for the Arizona Cardinals and the iconic former Texas Tech coach, Kliff Kingsbury. For the first time since being appointed the Cardinals’ head coach, Kingsbury will meet with and address the players. It will be fascinating to see what kind of a message and tone Coach Kingsbury and his staff set for the players.
To be perfectly candid, the biggest challenge for Kingsbury and the new coaching staff is to expunge the Cardinals’ long standing stigma of being an under-prepared, under-conditioned, oft-injured and consistently under-performing football team. Furthermore, there is the yet to be dispelled reputation that players come to Arizona “to retire” and that the players in Arizona have perpetuated a “country club atmosphere” where it’s anyone’s guess each week as to whether the team will make a concerted effort to try to win.
All save one special hero, WR Larry Fitzgerald, who shows up every year in tip-top shape and ready to go full bore every snap, every meeting and every drill. One of the greatest enigmas about the Arizona Cardinals is why more players don’t try to follow Fitzgerald’s impeccable example the way former 49ers used to when Jerry Rice relayed his exemplary work ethic and passion for the game on a daily basis.
Fitzgerald is and always has been a leader by example---but this year he could be Kingsbury’s and the coaching staff’s most important asset if he can finally get the message across that he expects his teammates (as he does for himself) to achieve at the highest standards and that nothing of those standards is acceptable.
Kliff Kingsbury is charismatic . He is someone who relishes in the relationship aspects of coaching. Thus, it will be of utmost importance for the players to embrace a more personal and passionate approach to coaching , rather than to take advantage of it or take it for granted.
What the players are quickly going to learn about Kingsbury is that yes he’s like the cool young teacher that all the students hope to have, but his entire pedagogy is predicated on meticulous and disciplined preparation. The twist is that Kingsbury loves making the learning process and the week to week preparations fun and something to look forward to. He thrives on whipping up his players into a frenzy---which is why he appreciates coaches like Pete Carroll and Sean McVay who bring such positive energy to the sidelines.
The potential genius about the Cardinals’ hiring of Kliff Kingsbury is that for the players to play his aggressive up-tempo style of football, they are going to have to bring the energy and by necessity, they are going to have to work themselves into top shape.
Kingsbury is now the third head coach during the Cardinals strength and conditioning coach, Buddy Morris’, tenure. Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim elected to stick with Morris despite underwhelming results and an avalanche of injuries the past few years. Now, some injuries are unavoidable, but some are the result of sub par training. Morris has to be a key cog in turning the tables around. Morris also has to get on board with a coaching philosophy that requires the players to play lighter and faster without significantly sacrificing playing strength---everything Kingsbury does is built on speed, punch and quickness.
What the players will also quickly learn about Kingsbury is that he believes in developing stables of good players at every position---his aim is always to have every player well-trained so that if one player falters or lags behind, another can step in and prosper.
Some will say, yeah but why then couldn’t he win at Texas Tech. The problem was recruiting in Texas, being one of the more remote and lesser coveted schools for the top Big 5 conference prospects. Kingsbury took the best athletes he could get to help make his offense a juggernaut---which it was every year to the tune of 39.5 points per game. But there weren’t enough good athletes left to play on defense, although Kingsbury was able to groom some good individual defensive players like LB Dakota Allen, SS Jah’Shawn Johnson and FS Justus Parker.
Unlike last season for the Cardinals when the game planning and system schemes were ultra-conservative and even vanilla at times, this year’s schemes are going to be far more imaginative and aggressive. It’s a brand of football that is meant to be fun to play and very exciting for the fans to watch.
So today begins the run to join the fun. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to learn of how many of the Cardinals’ returning players will be arriving in poor shape, having done little to nothing over the past four months. Those players had better come out of today’s meetings feeling inspired to run. Not only are they cheating the fans, the owners, the coaches and their own teammates, this year if they don’t rise to the occasion, they will be cheating themselves from being able to experience the kind of fun and excitement that aspiring, up-and-coming teams create.
The fact that Texas Tech is playing versus Virginia in the NCAA Championship basketball game tonight is an auspicious way to herald in the Cardinals’ new year under Coach Kingsbury. Kingsbury raves about his good friend Chris Beard (Texas Tech Men’s Head Basketball Coach) and the expertise, energy and passion he brings to the job. Beard wears a tattoo on his back that reads: 4:1. It’s a ratio of mental to physical toughness that Beard coaches and lives his life by. Like Kingsbury, Beard believes that effective, honest and supportive communication between the coaches and the players are the building blocks for success. This is why players love playing for Kingsbury and Beard. They put their players first. And they give their players the freedom, the diligent preparation and the encouragement to play a special brand of ball.