This article is, essentially, a tale of two tweets.
The first one, in my opinion, one of the great rants of all-time:
This DUDE Kliff Kingsbury looks like a better candidate to be on the BACHELOR than a head coach of a football team, DAMNIT! pic.twitter.com/WYOG3DRRM8— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) January 9, 2019
The latter, from a day ago, aka Present Time:
Coach of the Year odds on DraftKings:— Kyle Odegard (@Kyle_Odegard) November 22, 2021
Kliff Kingsbury +400
Bill Belichick +500
Mike Vrabel +600
Brandon Staley +1000
What. A. Difference.
There were other coaches either interviewed or scheduled to be interviewed in Jim Caldwell, Dan Campbell, Adam Gase, Zac Taylor (OC position), Mike McCarthy...but Kliff Kingsbury stood out on that list. For obvious reasons, which everyone has heard before about a fired college HC with a losing record at Texas Tech.
Heck, let’s drag a few OTHER people through the mud with their takes because why not?
“The Arizona Cardinals did less homework in hiring Kliff Kingsbury than I did in high school.” pic.twitter.com/vW3AkVq6E5— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) January 9, 2019
Yikes! Here’s a few more...
If Kliff Kingsbury is getting NFL interviews because of his development of Mahomes, I’ll argue that he didn’t do enough. Patrick has been far better as a pro than he was at Texas Tech. If developed right Mahomes would have gone #1 overall— Greg Gabriel (@greggabe) January 2, 2019
DP: "Hiring Kliff Kingsbury because he’s friends with Sean McVay is not selling me on anything." pic.twitter.com/Aip2RvoNgx— Dan Patrick Show (@dpshow) January 9, 2019
How in the hell you get fired from Texas Tech as the head coach & become the head coach of the AZ Cardinals? Kliff Kingsbury has won 35 games in 6 years. He's a damn good play caller, but he's a terrible head coach. He had Mahomes for 3 years & won 16 games.— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) January 9, 2019
via @ShannonSharpe pic.twitter.com/0P96F1XCct
And one that shows how talent > coordinators on defense and how both are needed...
The Lions have two touchdowns.— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 8, 2019
This was the Cardinals defense when they scored each.
DC? Vance Joseph.
Beyond bad. Borderline fireable. pic.twitter.com/HYhR3noM05
For me, there were a few positives, nay, excitements that I felt back in 2019 with the Kingsbury hiring:
- It was an “out of the box” solution for Arizona to fix a putrid offense
- The other options either being retreads or coaching options that had thrived a decade ago coming off of Mike McCoy
- His ability to bring an adaptable Air Raid system to the NFL, essentially the “Sean Payton of College football” as one called it in this podcast episode
- How he wasn’t a 70 passes a game Air Raid guy but had an effective and established rushing attack at TTU
- The fact that everywhere he went...he found and developed highly successful quarterbacks who went on to become high NFL draft picks.
- His age: not just the collegiate connections (knowing players/other coaches) but his youth meaning that he’d be around for a long time (unlike one Bruce Arians...albeit he’s still coaching now so what do we know)
- It meant that an insider on Reddit had more intel (and/or knew Kliff’s agent when they told people) than most NFL insiders and boy was that a fun feeling to have if it was true!
The negatives, of course, were extensive. Frankly, this was the first time a fired college coach had ever gotten an NFL HC job right out of the gate.
The idea was simple after letting go of Steve Wilks...find the opposite.
Arizona goes out and finds their own Sean McVay type in a young, brilliant offensive mind that aggressively fixes their offense and is able to help the Cardinals return to the glory days under Arians/Whisenhunt except with a young QB in tow.
That was the plan, anyway.
Many liked it, even and saw something like this coming:
Asked a high level NFL scout for his take on Kliff Kingsbury: “Absolute stud. I knew a long time ago he was going to be an NFL HC. He’s incredibly smart, extremely hard worker and ton of energy/enthusiasm. ... He is going to be awesome.” #Cardinals https://t.co/FzFG3zYJ6L— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) January 9, 2019
One of the biggest and earliest questions Kliff Kingsbury will have to answer is “What does an Air Raid offense look like when you have 21 offensive players on Sunday?”— Justis Mosqueda (NFL Owner) (@JuMosq) January 9, 2019
Kingsbury, the Air Raid and NFL Roster Limits:https://t.co/eCn0N2mghr pic.twitter.com/iVCpEsny6g
It appears that the Kliff Kingsbury hire is a bit of litmus test to how much people get the NFL in 2019.— Davis Mattek (davismattek.eth) (@DavisMattek) January 8, 2019
And looking back on it now, it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t a bad one in theory as far as avoiding the idea of “hiring a fired NFL retread HC who’s likelier to fail again with his second team” much like we’ve seen with Buddy/Rex Ryan (Bills) or even others in Mike McCoy and the Jets themselves, in hiring one Adam Gase after the Dolphins let him go.
But it’s also impossible to argue how risky it was. Articles aplenty about how Keim had to hire Kliff’s staff for him and the patience to make it work in retooling the offense...whew.
All that before #Kylermania as well.
Has there been questions and doubt? Also goes without saying.
Just look at my own reactions just in the first game alone in 2019:
Of course like much of everything else with Kliff...proven wrong in the end it seems as this was how it finished:
So...the question then is, why DID it ultimately work? I have 5 great reasons why:
#1. The Air Raid Offense went from the “future” of the NFL to the “now” and Kingsbury’s been one of the main architect’s of it
I can’t explain the Air Raid’s ability to alter the typical pro-style vertical and timing-based West Coast Offenses versus Brett Kollmann’s own video on the topic in which he came to the conclusion that Kingsbury would likely have success within 3 years NO MATTER IF HIS QUARTERBACK WAS ROSEN OR MURRAY.
Click the link below to watch more.
Kind of a bold prediction? Sure.
But it’s been right on.
We’ve seen even in Arizona as they’ve been able to showcase new and different plays this year how the multiple WR offense and spread has shot up, but Arizona’s also doing new things when it comes to motion and formations as part of the creativity...and execution.
#2. Kliff’s Humility In Embracing Change And The “I Don’t Have All The Answers” Mentality
This one’s a bit hard to put into true words but an example might be better. In Week 1 2018, Arizona was slouching from start to finish with a terrible 24-6 defeat in which they never did much besides try to run the ball and play a roughshod zone defense.
Post-game, Steve Wilks simply blamed the run fits, discipline and it took him (from my stopwatch) 35 seconds before he said “and that starts with me”. Essentially his responsibility.
When Arizona’s first half looked just as bad if not WORSE in Week 1 of 2019, including a lot of questioning the “revolutionary” parts of the offense, it took Kliff moving back to portions of the Air Raid staples in being able to push the ball deep, clean up protections and dial up plays downfield to David Johnson and a Kyler Murray rush to eventually tie it 27-27.
Post-game? In under 5 seconds, Kliff said “I didn’t put our guys in the position to succeed and that’s my fault.”
Told my dad right away at the game (which I attended and MAN was it electric seeing fans going crazy again for the first time in forever feeling like you had a young franchise QB) that this would be a big reason why Kliff COULD succeed and Wilks wouldn’t.
Steve Wilks was never able to recognize or adjust and part of that was his coaching method put it on players to succeed, adapt and execute. But if he was out-coached...then there was nothing he could do but make excuses. Kingsbury, of course, moved to a two-TE run-heavy approach over the next few years.
Arizona of course showed flashes (mostly in losses against the #1 defense of the Niners and a high-flying Falcons game) but was 4th in the division again.
Come 2020 and while there was a boost in Kyler’s legs and playcalls. And now in 2021 the passing attack has boomed, showing flexibility. While Wilks never wanted to do more than win games with defense, running the football and takeaways.
Kliff’s failures at Texas Tech, interestingly enough, probably shaped him for the NFL far more than most guys who succeed and succeed again and then have no idea how to change or adapt once adversity starts.
He’s shown that adaptation this year even as well:
one of my favorite plays from last weekend. lots of eye candy and a fun way to get to a pump and go/seam concept. plus the screens/relief throws to Moore has become a tendency for them, but sometimes tendencies create opportunities as can be seen from Seattle's reaction https://t.co/UUpB24t1if— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) November 24, 2021
Chip Kelly comes to mind here, as does Jim Harbaugh...the NFL CEO “follow what I say” no questions asked approach meant they were a bright flash in the pan but...didn’t know how to change themselves. Kliff, on the other hand, learned from his mistakes and continues to learn, which is something he and his former mentor Bill Belichick (fired by the Cleveland Browns at one point) have in common.
#3. Steve Keim’s faith in him has been rewarded by hitting on draft picks, which he was never able to have at Texas Tech
Keim was probably some 55-45% in favor of LOSING his job with the Cardinals as GM. And even after 2019 it was a concern for some.
And with good reason. ILB Haason Reddick, DT Robert Nkemdiche, TE Troy Niklas, OG Jonathan Cooper, lack of a decent starting center or developed OL drafted under Keim (before Humphries’ ascension) and perhaps worst of all...once people saw how poor of a player Josh Rosen was & that Keim took him after trading up and also added Andy Isabella in his place...people had it.
The GM’s not only helped set Kingsbury and himself up for success but has also turned around the team’s scouting process with the obvious Kyler Murray but also with these playmakers in the draft:
-Jalen Thompson, Marco Wilson & Byron Murphy
-Chase Edmonds, Eno Benjamin
-Rondale Moore and Josh Jones/Justin Murray
Add in a few veteran playmakers in FA or trade and it’s been a long way from the 2018 roster. Even Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins show promise, and all of this is the post-Arians era.
With the drafted talent level improving, it’s allowed Arizona to add veteran talent not to simply field a winning team, but to make them a top notch one with depth.
Keim’s earned himself another payday with all of this...and that’s as impressive of a comeback as Kingsbury’s.
#4. The team’s overall talent has improved tremendously, helping Vance Joseph and ST Coach Jeff Rodgers develop stable, top units and reduced penalties
Talent > being a “tough-minded” coach or not being a players’ coach when it comes to penalties for me.
Corner gets beat more often=holding penalties or DPI.
OL false starts because expecting a rush and needs to get there early.
Offense runs out of time on the clock because someone isn’t set right.
All were issues for AZ but...have gone away despite the same coaching staff. Seems like dropping Peterson, Kirkpatrick, Mason Cole and JR Sweezy helped quite a bit, no?
As for the coaches...they’ve turned it around well also.
Vance Joseph seemed like he barely survived, and now is a possible HC option for teams.
Arizona missed the playoffs with Zane Gonzalez, and now won a game with a backup QB despite missing kicks from Matt Prater.
A lot of Kliff’s success can come from not just himself but his ability to delegate out responsibility so that he can gameplan for the week and that success has even been seen when he wasn’t there for an entire game and the Ferrari ran like nothing was wrong—and the same goes for adding a higher caliber backup in Colt McCoy.
It justified not only that the talent and coaching just needed some time to grow along with Kliff, but that he was a big part of the success as well.
#5. In the end, it’s a Quarterback league and AZ pursued the premier quarterback developer...perhaps we should have expected that anyone who knows how to get the Quarterback right will get it right in the NFL?
Kyler Murray is just that. We’ve seen teams with #1 picks in Andrew Luck and Cam Newton transform their teams as well as seen finding late gems like Russell Wilson do the same.
Perhaps...hiring a coach whose specialty was finding and developing QB’s and then trusting him to do so was a smart decision?
It’s already played out as far as Kyler vs. Josh with Rosen spending time under both Kyle Shanahan, Bruce Arians and even behind Matt Ryan as a veteran QB and it hasn’t worked out well...at all.
There’s clearly more Kingsbury’s brought to the table than just picking Kyler...he’s developed him as well...Murray’s probably easier than most to develop but in the end, it’s always a QB and coach combination that wins in the NFL.
And as Kingsbury’s shown...winning isn’t everything.
It’s how you learn from losing that matters more than you’d think.