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Michael Bidwill Unlikely to Make Kliff Kingsbury the Scapegoat

Cardinals owner isn’t expected to fire his head coach

Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Following the Arizona Cardinals’ agonizing 25-24 home loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, a member of the Arizona media asked head coach Kliff Kingsbury whether he is worried about his job security, to which Kliff replied, “No, I am not.”

Some in the Arizona media and an avalanche of Cardinals fans have been asserting that the perfect time to relieve Kliff Kingsbury of his duties would be during the bye week this week. In anticipation of that possibly being the case, a few days ago I tweeted:

I believe that if Michael Bidwill’s mindset is to move on from Kliff Kingsbury, out of respect for Kliff, he would allow him to pursue one of the plum college jobs, like the one that recently opened up at Stanford.

During his time with the Cardinals, Kliff has said that he prefers coaching in the NFL because of not having to devote the majority of his time to recruiting.

However, the reality is that Kliff could make more money as a college head coach than what he is making in the NFL (which would also get Bidwill off the hook for Kliff’s contract extension). Kliff also could relish having more autonomy as a college head coach, particularly in running his offense entirely the way he prefers. Plus, he would be able to hire his own coaching staff.

Steve Keim not only hired Kliff’s coaching staff, he instructed Kliff to modify his K-Raid offense to incorporate some traditional NFL schemes. One of the ways that Keim acted to ensure this was to promote offensive line coach Sean Kugler to running game coordinator. You might have noticed on Hard Knocks episode 1 that Kugler was calling the running plays.

Another way Keim acted to ensure a more traditional NFL type of offense was firing the only assistant coach whom Kliff had K-Raid ties in WR coach David Raih. This was an effort to give venerable NFL offensive assistant Jerry Sullivan more of an influence in the overall operation of the passing game.

What Kliff has been able to hold on to is his penchant for a rhythm and timing passing game, played at a brisk tempo. This has been Kliff’s calling card as an offensive architect throughout his career.

During the Cardinals torrid 7-0 start last season, Kyler Murray was running the offense the best he had in his three seasons at QB. Kyler was playing at an MVP level.

Since the Green Bay game last year, for whatever the reasons, the offense has slowed down almost to a crawl with Kyler Murray at QB —- to the point where simply getting off the snap without a player jumping off-side before the play clock expires became a weekly adventure.

In a rare moment of self-defense, Kliff said he has never experienced this type of pre-snap problems throughout his coaching career.

Meanwhile, last year and once again this year, Kliff’s offense experienced a renaissance with Colt McCoy at QB. Over that span, Colt McCoy has not only won three NFC West road games over SF, SEA and LA, he won them all by double digits and posted 2 of the team’s highest plus 100 QBRs in the process.

What Colt McCoy has proved is that Kliff’s offense, with a rhythm and timing QB, can be prolific.

I believe that Michael Bidwill is keenly cognizant of this. After all, he has been sitting in with Kliff and Vance Joseph’s game film studies.

It was encouraging to see Kyler Murray experience his own renaissance of sorts for the first three quarters of the Chargers’ game. The hope is that Kyler can keep the needle moving in the right direction, especially now that DeAndre Hopkins and Marquise Brown are playing in tandem.

In good conscience, Michael Bidwill, would have a very hard time justifying a removal of Kliff Kingsbury as head coach.

  • Kliff and JJ Watt are two most deducted and hardest workers at the Cardinals’ facility.
  • The players play hard for Kliff.
  • The players respect Kliff for his work ethic, his offensive acumen and his humble way of falling on the sword for their behalf.
  • When have Cardinals teams ever played so well on the road? Yes, getting things straightened out at home is of paramount importance. But, the road wins have been extremely impressive.

Long-time Cardinals fans know all too well when teams of the past were Dr. Jeckyls and Mr. Hydes when it came to consistently playing hard.

Furthermore, it’s not difficult to imagine that the players gained some added respect for Kliff in the way he handled being f-bombed on national TV by Kyler Murray.

Whom do you think the execs, coaches and players respect more, Kliff or Kyler?

Michael Bidwill knows the answer to this, which is why he could have a mutiny on his hands if he lets Kyler Murray’s antics and subpar level of play cause a major overhaul in the organization.

What About Kyler?

Michael Bidwill could point towards an off-season where Kyler is expected to be in the building and leading OTAs (for the first time in 4 years thanks to 2 years of COVID restrictions and Kyler’s opting out last year) as a way of getting Kyler and the entire team back on track.

But, are there any guarantees that Kyler would comply? Why did Bidwill feel he had to put a $10.5M off-season participation incentive clause in Kyler’s contract? That being said, with Kyler having been fully guaranteed $103M of which he has already been paid $30M, is it possible that he could turn down the :voluntary” participation incentive to stay in Texas?

If so, could Michael Bidwill decide to seek a trading partner for Kyler?

It might be possible, especially if Bidwill is wondering how Kyler could ever win the locker room back. Would it seem in Kyler’s nature to do so?

When asked on the Pat McAfee Show this week whether a new head coach in Arizona could ameliorate the tensions surrounding Kyler, Ian Rapoport said,

ESPN posed the question of what it would take for the Cardinals to trade Kyler. and here is their take:

If the Cardinals want to trade Murray after this season, and if they were able to do so before picking up the 2023 option, they would carry just a $23.228 million dead-money charge on their 2023 cap. But that would require them to persuade a team to take on a contract that pays Murray a guaranteed $75 million or so over the next two years.

Possible suitors?

Perhaps the Texans, Colts, Falcons, Saints, Commanders, Giants, Jets?

$75 guaranteed over the next 2 years is actually not so prohibitive for a team and a coach who would believe that Kyler could be their guy through 2027.

The question is how much the self-induced drama surrounding Kyler, which is persisting more than ever these days, would deter potential trade partners?

Therefore, I believe that much may depend on the tone and tenor of Kyler’s exit interview. Michael Bidwill will want to know very specifically what Kyler’s off-season plans and goals are.

We have seen Kyler thrive in Kliff’s offense before. This off-season could be dedicated to getting Kyler back in command and in full swing of the offense.

As for other possible changes, the one change that might be the most likely is at DC if the Cardinals have a candidate in mind whom they believe could maximize the growing young talent on that side of the ball.

Per rumors, the Cardinals had a change at DC in mind two years ago, but their candidate of choice was not able to make the move at that time.

It’s possible that Michael Bidwill could decide to move Steve Keim to an executive role much akin to Terry McDonough’s for the intention of promoting Adrian Wilson or Quentin Harris to GM. That would excite a number of us Cardinals’ fans who are yearning with great passion for a change, one that we believe could help improve the team’s culture and image.

There has been a lot of talk on social media about the Cardinals bringing in Sean Payton for a complete makeover. But the logistics of such a move both financially and in terms of trade compensation (the Saints are rumored to be seeking multiple 1st round picks) appear very daunting.

The gist is, it appears most likely that Michael Bidwill holds Kliff Kingsbury’s work ethic, offensive acumen and exemplary way of holding himself accountable in too high a regard to make him the scapegoat for this year’s struggles.

I understand that Bidwill sticking with Kliff Kingsbury will likely be very unpopular among the media and Cardinals’ fans who desperately want Kliff fired.

Hey, Ed, thanks for the question. We go back a long ways!

It’s difficult to assess Kliff’s college records because he had tremendous success developing a host of QBs, many of whom are playing in the NFL (Patrick Mahomes, Case Keenum, Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb) while putting up huge offensive numbers and points in the process.

As the head coach of Texas Tech, Kliff’s biggest problem was recruiting. He spent too much time trying to woo prospects (like Kyler Murray) that were always long shots to commit to TTU. He said himself that in order to make his offense dynamic he needed to put the best athletes on the offense side of the ball, to the detriment oof the defense. His records at TTU are a reflection of that and of the fact that he could not recruit the kind of quality depth that rivals like Oklahoma and Texas were able to do, year in and year out.

I believe that his struggles down the stretch of seasons at TTU were largely due to having to turn to his depth, which was not up to par with the other top programs in the Big 12.

Kliff no longer has to recruit in the NFL.

What has always impressed me about Kliff is not only how much consistently high production he gets from his starting QBs, but also when needed, from his backups.

Look at what he’s gotten out of Colt McCoy who beat SF, SEA and LA on the road all by double digits. that to me is a significant accomplishment.

In this way, Kliff brings a special ability to the table at the most important position in football.

My premonition is that if Kliff, with his offensive prowess, is working with a top 10 defense, then he could win a Super Bowl. There are times that Kliff has out-coached Kyle Shanahan even though Shanahan has typically had a stronger defense than the Cardinals. Give Kliff anything near the talent that Shanahan has and he could be hugely successful.

It typically takes an NFL head coach a few years to get into a groove.

  • Bill Belichick’s first 4 years: 31-33 (0 playoff appearances)
  • Kyle Shanahan’s first 4 years: 31-36 (2-1 in 2019 playoffs)
  • Kliff Kingsbury to date: 28-32-1 (0-1 in 2021 playoffs)

Some of Kliff’s accomplishments:

  • 11 win season in 2021 was 2nd best season win total in the history of the Arizona Cardinals.
  • Beating all 3 NFC West rivals on the road within the last 12 months.
  • 4-2 in the NFC West last year.
  • 8-1 on the road last year (setting a team record)
  • 2-0 vs. Cowboys
  • #6 offense in NFL in 2020
  • #9 offense in NFL 2021

The cupboard isn’t bare. There are major pieces to build on here.

Lastly, it’s not Kliff’s fault that his QB and OL skipped OTAs and that Kyler missed most of training camp with a wrist injury and then once the games started the OL started losing 4 starters to injury. That’s why with a better year of preparation, player participation and stronger personnel, there’s a good chance that he and the team can bounce back.