It is very reasonable for Cardinals’ fans to say at this point that the 3 most important decisions that Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim made in the past year were: (1) drafting QB Kyler Murray; (2) hiring Kliff Kingsbury as head coach; and (3) hiring Sean Kugler as the offensive line coach.
A Triple K trifecta for the Cardinals, if you will.
During D.J. Humphries’ press conference this week, D.J. gushed with excitement and enthusiasm with regard to Kyler’s and Kliff’s “infectious” dedication to creative excellence and what their leadership and hunger to win mean to the outlook of the football team moving forward.
Later on Cover 2, here is what D.J. had to say about his o-line coach: “ Kugs brought so much direction to the room. You know, that’s the thing I love about Kugs. He’s an alpha—-he’s an alpha in the room for alphas—-he’ll never tuck in his tail. Never. He doesn’t care who you are or how much money you make, he’s gonna stand on his, that’s who he is—-and that’s music to my ears. He’s a real person—-and that’s all I ever wanted.”
On Doug and Wolf this week, Sean Kugler talked about D.J.’s growth throughout the season—-that he and D.J. had a number of heart to heart talks about the short shelf life on an NFL player and how important it is to approach the work the right way.
Kugler said that around week 4, D.J. began to click and from that point forward Kugs said, “he really endeared himself to me. I love the guy.”
Music to one’s ears?
How about music to Michael Bidwill’s ears—-because the main reason why he hired Steve Wilks in 2018 was that Bidwill believed Wilks and his staff could motivate players with “different personalities.”
In some respects, Wilks was able to make some progress in that area, particularly with DT Robert Nkemdiche who produced versus the Chargers one of the most dominant performances Cardinals’ fans seen from a defensive tackle since Darnell Dockett’s stellar play in the Super Bowl. But, sadly, two weeks later, Nkemdiche’s season ended when he suffered a major knee injury that required surgery.
Unfortunately for Wilks, the results on the field through a dismal 3-13 season were his undoing.
But—-now—-to see and appreciate the impact that Sean Kugler has made turning what what a perennial weakness (the OL) into a team strength and in helping to spawn a revamped running game that averaged 5 yards a run—-and—-to see and appreciate the impact Kugler has made in developing D.J. Humphries’ confidence (amongst others’)—-has to be such music to Michael Bidwill’s ears.
So—-how did Kugs do it with D.J.?
1—-the heart to hear talks.
2—-daily and weekly truth tests—-like D.J. said, Kugs gives his players what they want most: the truth.
3—-the daily and weekly training and preparations structures which Kugs oversaw in great detail and vigilance.
4—-the daily meetings in the OL room, where Kugs encouraged the players to be themselves and to let their personalities emerge in order build up the camaraderie of the unit.
And perhaps most importantly, while sensing that D.J. could emerge as a leader, Kugs created a weekly tradition of hosting “D.J. Focus Fridays” in the OL room, where D.J. would take command of the day’s preparations.
For anyone who is or has been a teacher and/or coach—-or even a parent—-what Kugs did here for D.J. Humphries is keenly intuitive and astute. First he got to know D.J. by working with him one on one —-then Kugs showed him the blueprint of how D.J was going to get his mind and body right. He confronted D.J. with the truth about the good and the bad of his play each week. And best of all, once he got to know D.J. and could see his potential as a leader, he gave D.J. the opportunity to take ownership of the room and to broaden his role on the team.
This is precisely how a coach needs to motivate today’s athletes.
And this is why Sean Kugler is the perfect coach for D.J. Humphries.
Kugs said that once D.J. turned a corner around week 4 it was clear to him that D.J. has everything he wants in an offensive lineman from his length, to his agility, to his aggressiveness—-and perhaps most of all——to the sheer fun he has playing the game. Kugs said—-juts look at him “bouncing up and down in the huddle like a dancing bear” during TV timeouts. “He is loving every minute of it”
This is what it looks like to coach players with “different personalities.” There are some coaches who wouldn’t want a dancing bear in the huddle—-ever.
Kugs is confident that D.J. is going to be even further motivated by his new contract. He said of D.J., “He’s a loyal cat … I don’t think it’s going to be ‘I got money in my pocket, I’m going to be a fat cat.’ I think he’s going to be a guy that (says), ‘I finally got people believe in me and trust me, and now I’m going to go prove to these guys they made the right decision.’”
Hmmm...we’ve heard a number of former Cardinals’ coaches talk about “trust.” The past two head coaches just so happened to include trust as one of their three pillars for generating team success.
Well, if one looks closely at how Sean Kugler helped D.J. Humphries be the best version of himself—-not only as a player, but as a unique personality—-then, Kugs’ efforts aptly serve as a paradigm for how genuine trust is built.
The Cardinals have something very much worth keeping in Sean Kugler.
The Cardinals would be wise to promote Kugler to assistant head coach asap and reward him with him a raise. This would allow Kugs to work from time to time with a few players outside of the OL room. For example, imagine what Kugs could do for the other D.J., e.g. #31 David Johnson.
The Cardinals need to do all they can to protect Kugs’ employment.
Don't be surprised if and when Eric Bienemy take a head coaching job, that Andy Reid offers his OC job to Sean Kugler. After all, Reid was Kugler’s OL position coach in college at UTEP and Kugs considers Reid a father figure.
Kugs loves coaching with Kliff Kingsbury as he lauds Kingsbury’s “openness to input”, his penchant for “collaborations” and his uncanny “creativity”.
“Kugs said, “I love coaching and the satisfaction that come with seeing my players succeed.”
Kudos to Kugs.
Kudos to coaches and teachers everywhere who love their jobs and who put in the time and effort it takes to nudge their players and students in the right direction.
A tip of the hat, to you, coach Kugs.
You are a credit to your profession.