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A Final Homage to Kliff Kingsbury

Kliff Kingsbury does not deserve to be a scapegoat for 2022

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 23 USC at Arizona State Photo by Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The echoing refrain from a vast number of Arizona Cardinals’ fans over the past year or so continues to be: Kliff Kingsbury is a horrible play caller who never had any business being an NFL head coach.

Recent examples:(with rebuttals)

Kliff’s not an innovative coach?

Kliff’s NFL offense was the same one as he ran at Texas Tech?

Kliff did a lousy job with Patrick Mahomes, especially in terms of reading defenses?

First of all, have you looked at Patrick Mahomes’ gaudy stats at Texas Tech?

  • 857/1,349 (63.5%) for 11,252 yds./8.8 ave./93 TDs/ 29 ints/ 152.0 rating.

Mahomes’ Year to Year Progression at Texas Tech: (Passing Yards and TDs)

  • 2014: 1,547 —- 16 TDs
  • 2015: 4,653 —- 36 TDs
  • 2016: 5,052 —- 41 TDs

Those extraordinary numbers prove that he was reading college defenses very effectively.

Learning NFL defenses is another thing all together.

Most significantly, every QB coming out of college and into the NFL needs to learn how to read NFL defenses. Let’s be fair, here. Bryce Young was coached at Alabama by Nick Saban and Bill O’Brien (two former NFL head coaches) —- and BY is just getting started understanding how to read NFL defenses. It takes time and huge reps.

If Andy Reid and the Chiefs were so concerned about Mahomes’ inability to read defenses, they would have never traded up for him.

Kliff ruined Kyler Murray?

Up until the Green Bay home game loss where Kyler rolled his ankle, A.J. Green scoreboard watched and Rasul Douglas stole the game away, Kliff Kingsbury had Kyler and the team heading in the right direction, stunningly sitting atop the NFL at 7-1. For a year and a half Kyler was making Pro Bowls and the offense was in the top 10 of the league.

To be fair to Kliff, after Kyler’s ankle injury, which had him out for 3 games, Kyler was never quite the same and hasn’t been since. As we know, there was a lot going on with Kyler and his obsession on getting his big-time bag.

If Kliff can’t coach and he ruined Kyler, why then was Kliff able to orchestrate three huge NFC West home wins over SF, SEA and LAR with Colt McCoy at QB? All three wins were in convincing fashion (10 or more points), with Colt earning 3 of the best QB ratings in two years:

NFC West Road Game Trifecta by Colt McCoy:

  • @ SF 31-17 W—- Colt’s QB rating: 119.4
  • @ SEA 23-13 W —- Colt’s QB rating: 112.9
  • @ LAR: 27-17 W —- Colt’s QB rating: 96.5

Latter Half of Season 4th Q leads with decimated OL, fired OL coach who was being insubordinate and NFL’s 31st ranked defense in points per game):

  • Nov. 13 at LA: Cardinals 27 Rams 17 —- Colt McCoy —- had 24-10 lead with 5:00 left
  • Nov. 27 vs LACL Chargers 25 Cardinals 24 —- Kyler Murray —- had 24-17 lead with 2:00 left
  • Dec. 25 vs TB: Bucs 19 Cardinals 16 OT —- Trace McSorley —- had 16-6 lead with 10:47 left
  • Jan. 1 @ ATL: Falcons 20 Cardinals 19 —- David Blough —-had 19-17 lead with 4:39 left

A horrible coach and play caller would never have been able to achieve this.

Accomplishments with the Cardinals that Kliff Kingsbury should be lauded for:

Kliff Kingsbury’s Cardinals’ Franchise Records (121 years):

  • 1st HC ever to win 8 road games during a regular season
  • 3rd HC ever (tied with Don Coryell and Bruce Arians) to win 11 games in a regular season. Arians has the all-time record off 13 wins in a regular season.
  • 1st HC ever to have a rookie QB win NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year
  • !st HC ever to have a team-drafted QB be elected to the Pro Bowl twice in his first 3 seasons
  • In the history of the Arizona Cardinals Kliff has the 3rd most wins as head coach with 28, tied with Vince Tobin, who had a lower winning percentage, but won the Arizona Cardinals first playoff game.
  • 1st Cardinals head coach in the Super Bowl era to start a season 7-0 and be recognized as the #1 team in the NFL.

More of Kliff Kingsbury’s Accomplishments:

  • Coached the offense to 2 top 10 finishes in yards per game: 6th in 2020 and 8th in 2021.
  • Playing in consistently close, competitive games —- the last 3 seasons —- Cardinals had 14 blowout wins, to 7 blowout losses. All of the other games went right down to the wire.
  • Thus, in the 50 regular season games the Cardinals played the last three seasons, Kliff Kingsbury’s teams were very competitive in 43 of them. Bruce Arians’ teams suffered more blowout losses (10) over the course of his last three seasons. Ken Whisenhunt’s teams, over his last three seasons, suffered 16 blowout losses.
  • Kliff won more East Coast early games than BA and Whiz combined.
  • Kliff’s road record the last 3 years: 15-10.
  • In the Super Bowl era, Kliff Kingsbury was the Cardinals’ 6th HC to earn a playoff berth (Don Coryell, Jim Hanifan, Vince Tobin, Ken Whisenhunt, Bruce Arians, Kliff Kingsbury). Context: the Cardinals, during the Super Bowl era have made the playoffs only 9 times in the past 57 years. The only coaches to win a playoff game are Vince Tobin (1), Ken Whisenhunt (4) and Bruce Arians (1).
  • In 2021 The Athletic tabbed Kliff Kingsbury as the 4th best head coach in the NFL to make the most of the least amount of talent.

How can a head coach finish a season strong without his best and highest paid players?

Have any of Michael Bidwill’s and Steve Keim’s head coaches been able to sustain success?

In a word: no.

BA had a superb 3 year run, but then things soured to the point where BA retired. Whether or not his retirement was urged and perhaps even forced by Bidwill, particularly in light of BA’s health concerns, the morale around the organization had plummeted.

Is it purely by coincidence that BA’s two successors, Steve Wilks and Kliff Kingsbury, were scapegoated by Michael Bidwill?

Think of how hamstrung both Wilks and Kingsbury were by Steve Keim’s coaching staff and personnel decisions. To different degrees there are common denominators there, especially in terms of how Keim addressed the other side of the ball with the hires he made for Wilks (McCoy) and Kingsbury (Joseph).

Given that Kliff Kingsbury was hired with no NFL experience and how Steve Keim dictated which coaches would be hired and which players would be signed and/or drafted, it’s actually a miracle of sorts as to what Kliff was able to accomplish throughout his first three seasons. Let’s remember too that Kliff inherited the NFL’s worst offense (2018).

How did Kliff do it?

First by working his ever-living tail off.

Second by being respectful and amenable to the coaches and players —-asking for and accepting their inputs —- and by treating them as professionals.

A great paradox of life is that one’s greatest strength can often be perceived as one’s greatest weakness.

Kliff’s amenability that helped to have the whole organization moving in a most positive direction, would wind up leading to his undoing, because ultimately some of the coaches and players he trusted to conduct themselves as conscientious and diligent professionals did not return the favor. .

The #1 person at fault for the Cardinals’ demise in 2022 was Michael Bidwill. Yet, when Bidwill deems that “a change HAD to be made” what he is in thew habit of doing is scapegoating the head coach so as to take as much attention away from his own poor decisions.

No one is happier to see Cardinals fans bashing Steve Wilks and Kliff Kingsbury than Michael Bidwill. Better that Wilks and Kliff be the scapegoats, than he. Bidwill wants to make certain that you know that Kliff was the main problem, not he.

Consider this Cardinals’ fans —- but in your zeal for change —- so many of you have been swallowing Michael Bidwill’s bait —- hook, line and sinker.

The tremendous irony is that Michael Bidwill took one of the biggest risks imaginable when, with Ernie Accorsi’s (The “QB Guy” GM) encouragement, he hired Kliff Kingsbury —- and for 3 and half years Kliff was making Bidwill’s gamble, that everyone in the media instantly said would fail, look like a stroke of genius.

I mean when have the Cardinals ever been 7-0 and ranked #1 in the NFL?

Bidwill even conceded that Kliff Kingsbury was “the hardest working coach I have ever seen.”

Yet, when Kliff asked Bidwill for a new DC and OL coach —- Bidwill refused. What a sandbagging.

And then Bidwill’s decision to fire Kliff so all the world could see on HBO’s Hard Knocks Iwas one of the most despicable and classless gestures I have ever seen.

That’s how desperate Michael Bidwill was to make sure everyone in the USA and abroad knew who the scapegoat was.

And so many people bought it.

New Era for NFL Head Coaches:

Sure, does Kliff Kingsbury appear to be the quintessential model of an NFL head coach?

In terms of the Lombardis and Nolls and Belichicks of past eras, heck no.

But, it’s important to acknowledge how and why the head coaching model in the NFL has shifted away for Type A loud-whistle guys to what could be called the Geek Squad. Look around the league at the young hires —- most of them are young, film study fanatics and analytics gurus with expertise on one side of the ball, most predominantly these days on offense.

Be serious —- is Mike McDaniel going to give a team speech that will have the players ready to run through brick walls? Brandon Staley? Kevin O’Connell? Josh McDaniels? Shane Steichen?

On the other hand, the problem for Type A head coaches like Mike Tomlin, Dan Campbell and Robert Saleh is (a) finding coordinators who can go toe to toe with the best OCs and DCs; and then (b) finding a way to hold on to the ones who can.

Imagine if...

If for the first time in his college and NFL career as a head coach, Kliff Kingsbury ever becomes the offensive play caller for a team that has a venerable DC like the Chiefs’ Steve Spagnuolo and a top 10 defense to rely on in close games, he could thrive.

At Texas Tech, Kliff’s major problem was recruiting and “keeping up with the Joneses” in the Big 12. With the Cardinals in Kliff two losing seasons he was saddled with one the NFL’s worst defense (#32 in total yards given up in 2019 and #31 in points per game surrender in 2022) . Think of how that impacted the Cardinals’ chances to win, especially in all of the close games —- which there were many of.

Of Kliff’s and the Cardinals’34 close games that came down to the wire over the course of his 4 years, the Cardinals won 12 of them and lost 22. Think of how many times you saw the offense take a 4th quarter lead and the defense give the lead right back.

One could argue, well as the head coach Kliff was also in charge of the defense, so it’s still his fault.

Normally yes, but this is not the way Steve Keim set the staff up. He set up the staff for Vance Joseph to be the de facto co-head coach and gave him the full autonomy to run the defense as he deemed fit. Keim also designated Vance Jospeh to be Kliff’s principal mentor.


Was Kliff Kingsbury an ideal head coach?


Was Kliff Kingsbury given the best chance to succeed in Arizona?


Does Kliff Kingsbury deserve to be denigrated and ridiculed by Cardinals’ fans?


Does Kliff Kingsbury deserve at least some of the blame for the team’s collapse in 2022?


He would be the first to accept it and the first to fall on his sword for players like he always did.

I personally have never seen a coach who displayed such self-discipline, steadfast player loyalty and emotional restraint. He was first-class all the way. He led the team on one of the most impressive 3 year stretches in franchise history —- from rock bottom in 2018 to #1 in the NFL through 12 weeks in 2021 —- and in year 4, despite the team’s woes he never quit on the team and he somehow managed to keep every game close.

That may not feel like great coaching to some, but for this fan of a franchise that over the years has seemed to quit on seasons more often than not, Kliff Kingsbury earned my life-long respect and appreciation for his exemplary work ethic, his refusal to quit when the going was toughest and the accomplishments he was able to help the team achieve —- of which there were many —-that came as a result of good coaching, not bad.

It’s good to see that Jonathan Gannon and the new coaching staff have been given far more favorable conditions than Kliff ever got. I am happy for them and feel excited to see how hard the team is playing.

I needed to write one last homage to Kliff. For the sense of justice.

I wish him the best at USC and hope he gets another chance to coach int the NFL, especially if he is given the chance to run his offense the way he prefers. Thanks to Steve Keim’s insistence, we never saw an offense that was totally Kliff’s —- and maybe —- just maybe —- that was part of the problem.