When Kliff Kingsbury was hired as the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals many NFL pundits opined that the Cardinals were copycatting the Rams by trying to hire the next Sean McVay.
The comparison of Kingsbury to McVay carries some weight in the respect that they are both young, highly dedicated offensive-minded savants who need to be paired with veteran defensive coordinators with NFL head coaching experience so that they can concentrate on what they do best---which is find creative ways to put points on the scoreboard.
But, when one looks more closely at Kingsbury’s and McVay’s career paths and their coaching backgrounds and influences, one can perceive tangible differences. Kingsbury cut his coaching teeth in college, whereas McVay cut his in the NFL. Kingsbury’s K-Raid offense is most heavily influenced by Mike Leach, while McVay’s offense is an amalgamation of traditional NFL West Coast type concepts (in the Bill Walsh mold) with a sprinkling of modern college RPO concepts (in the Chip Kelly type mold).
In terms of coaching styles, Sean McVay reminds me a lot of former Eagles and Rams coach, Dick Vermeil. Vermeil was a tireless worker who was legendary for sleeping for nights on end in his office. He was constantly searching for new offensive wrinkles and always tried to stray ahead of the current offensive trends in the NFL. Strategically, his teams, like the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf,” were diligently prepared. But, Vermeil’s greatest asset as a coach was his ability to create a family atmosphere in the clubhouse---and to create emotional bonds with his players.
Sean McVay in all of those ways is very Dick Vemeil-esque.
As for Kliff Kingsbury, his coaching style appears to be very reminiscent of Don Coryell’s. While Kingsbury’s offensive concepts were derived in the Air Raid philosophy, Kingsbury loves to innovate. All coaches are borrowers to various degrees. But not all coaches have the knack for innovation. Don Coryell was one of the most innovative offensive minds and head coaches in the history of the NFL. But, his innovations weren’t just for x’s and o’s---Coryell entered the NFL at a time when most NFL head coaches were still trying to emulate Vince Lombardi---not only in trying to run the ball down people’s throats, but in being total ass whippers.
When Don Coryell came into the NFL, he didn’t just bring his unconventional, high passing San Diego St. offense with him, he brought a fresh philosophy of “putting our players in positions to succeed” (which so many coaches continue to say to this day) and “treating our players like men and with all of the respect they deserve.” He said, “I don’t think you have to be a son-of-a-bitch coach to get the most out of players.”
What Vermeil and Coryell had very much in common, as do McVay and Kingsbury, is the running of upbeat, spirited, highly detail-oriented practices, the kinds of which players very much enjoy. The object is to teach and encourage while all the while keeping the fun of the game very much alive and well.
A few players told Josh Weinfuss of ESPN after the first couple of OTA practices this week that Kingsbury’s practices are “much more mellow and laid back” than BA’s or Steve Wilks’. The players said that Wilks would scream a lot and his practices were tense. And we all know that BA’s and his staff were a unified coalition of f-bombers.
Kingsbury has even gone to the extreme of giving the players’ “cellphone breaks” every half hour or so during the meetings.
An old school coach would scoff at such a liberal approach.
But, anyone who works with teenagers and young adults these days knows that players and students are more apt to learn and grow in respectful, creative and supportive environments. In the past, if a coach or teacher was described as “chill” or “laid back,” the assumption was the coach or teacher was a slacker who let the kids have whatever they want.
The irony is that the best teaching occurs when the players are highly engaged and take ownership of the stratagems.
Learning actually is easiest when the environment is conducive to it.
Thus---it comes down to a very important and significant question:
Today, what is the best way for coaches to motivate?
In the old days, one would might be apt to say through FEAR.
You know, BA’s “cuss em out now and hug em later” philosophy might work for a little while until the players figure it out and then start resenting it.
Certainly, iconic pro athletes like Michael Jordan often claim that they were highly motivated by “the fear of failure.” And that’s a good thing when that comes naturally from within. But, that’s why the worst thing for Michael Jordan would have been having a hardass coach who exacerbated Jordan’s own fears. Phil Jackson had a “chill,” zen-like coaching philosophy which was just as good for Michael Jordan as it was for Scottie Pippin and Dennis Rodman.
So, if the best way for coaches to motivate today is not through fear---what is then?”
Have any of you read the old Civil War classic, Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage?
It’s the story of a young soldier’s ever-growing fear that in the face of battle he is going to run. The soldier’s name is Henry Fleming.
What’s brilliant about Crane’s novel is in the learning of what emotion motivated Henry Fleming more than any other in his determination to conquer his own fears so that he could do his part for his regiment.
As it turned out---that emotion was PRIDE.
While fetching some water down at the brook with one of his fellow soldiers, Henry hears the colonel call his regiment a bunch of “mule drivers” as in the kind of regiment that colonels would deem the most expendable.
What Henry realized at that moment was how proud he had become of his regiment and of his fellow soldiers.
Thus when Henry and his friend, Wilson, suddenly found themselves and their regiment on the front line being served up as likely casualties, they rallied their fellow soldiers and made such a fierce charge that the once overly frightened young soldiers wound up being the first to capture the confederate flag.
It strikes me very profoundly, that generating PRIDE is a a key component of Kliff Kingsbury’s coaching philosophy. Now---it’s not that Kingsbury is ever going to preach it. He won’t. Like Don Coryell, he wants his players to feel it and to act on it for themselves.
If you have noticed, even though Kingsbury got fired by Texas Tech, his beloved alma mater, you will never hear Kingsbury utter an negative word about his Red Raiders. No one has more Red Raider pride than he does.
But life has its quirky little twists of fate.
If we were to go back to this year’s Oklahoma at Texas Tech game---Texas Tech was playing a great game versus Kyler Murray, capitalizing on two early interceptions to make it 14-0 Red Raiders. Texas Tech was 5-3 at the time and promising young freshman QB Alan Bowman had returned from injury and was outscoring Kyler Murray in the first half, only to get re-injured right before half-time with the Red Raiders in the lead.
As it was, Texas Tech still almost won the game and it took some very cool and precise passing and running from Murray to seal the win.
Had Bowman not been injured and if Texas Tech had won that game---the Red Raiders would have already been bowl eligible and still very much in the top 25-35 rankings in the country---chances are they would have won a couple more games and possibly their bowl game.
Just the same, what would have happened to Kyler Murray and Oklahoma? A loss at Lubbock might have dashed Murray’s Heisman hopes and Oklahoma’s Big 12 Championship and BCS Final Four aspirations.
Who knows? Right now Kliff Kingsbury could still be the head coach at Texas Tech and Kyler Murray could be back in Texas playing baseball for the A’s AA affiliate at Midland.
As fate would have it, we Cardinals fans can now hope Kliff Kingsbury is meant to be for Kyler Murray what Don Coryell was for Jim Hart and Dan Fouts.
This is a brand new era of Cardinals football---an era that hopefully the coaches, players and fans can take a great and newfound pride in.