Is New Arizona Cardinals Coach Kliff Kingsbury Ready for the NFL?

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterJanuary 8, 2019

Kliff Kingsbury is the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Can he turn QB Josh Rosen into a superstar?
Kliff Kingsbury is the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Can he turn QB Josh Rosen into a superstar?Associated Press

The Arizona Cardinals made a splashy hire Tuesday by grabbing former Texas Tech head coach and recently hired USC offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury—a name that had become the hottest in coaching circles this hiring season.

ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the move.          

Kingsbury was fired by Texas Tech in November after six seasons, in which he had a record of 35-40, but he quickly was hired by USC. Then, before he'd even called a play for the Trojans, he became one of the most-sought-after interviews for NFL teams.

So why was Kingsbury so highly thought of in the first place? How could a coach who failed at Tech be considered ready for a head coaching job in the NFL?

That's the big question, and B/R sought to answer it by asking it to coaches who have worked for Kingsbury, some who have gone against him and NFL decision-makers.

"Every NFL owner wants the hot new offensive toy right now," said one NFL personnel executive, whose team is hiring a new head coach and asked to not be named. "Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, Matt Nagy, Matt LaFleur—the idea is you'd rather hire the guy one year too soon than be a year late and miss out on a top candidate.

"It's still a copycat league, and everyone wants offense. Kliff's ability to scheme, adapt and execute an offense that gets the ball to playmakers is pretty exciting." 

Editor's note: This is the first installment in B/R's "Next Belichick?" series, which profiles some of the top up-and-coming coaches this year. You'll get to know more about the following coaches in the coming weeks.

Part 1: Kliff Kingsbury

Part 2: Eric Bieniemy

Part 3: Josh McDaniels

Part 4: Kris Richard

The wins might not have been there for Kingsbury at Texas Tech, but the offensive numbers were. The team ranked in the top 16 in total offense in all six of his seasons, including four top-10 finishes and first overall in 2016. The 39-year-old former NFL quarterback also developed a reputation for working with top QBs, including Case Keenum, Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes—the last of those disciples being a big reason he received so much NFL attention.

Mahomes dominated the NFL with 50 touchdowns and 5,097 yards during this regular season, his first as a starter and second in the league. His ability to dominate right away is part of what makes Kingsbury attractive.

Kingsbury helped develop the Patrick Mahomes we saw dominate the NFL this season.
Kingsbury helped develop the Patrick Mahomes we saw dominate the NFL this season.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

"He is really bright, man," Mahomes told B/R. "I'm telling you, he does a lot of the same stuff they do in our building as far as drawing up new plays every week and dressing up plays to have success. He has the work ethic and innovative mind to easily be successful."

Mahomes signing off on Kingsbury no doubt carries a lot of weight.

And it matches up with the opinion of coaches who have prepared to do battle against the Texas Tech offense in years past.

"The way the NFL is trending toward pass-happy offenses, I understand why teams view Kingsbury as a unicorn," said Bryan Carrington, the director of recruiting at the University of Texas. "He's one of the best offensive minds in the country, and when I look at the Rams, Chiefs, Bears and Saints, I see basically a Big 12 offense.

"Kliff is also one of the best quarterback developers out there, and a lot of these teams looking for a head coach have their franchise quarterback already, so it makes sense. Kliff was the offensive coordinator at Houston when I started college there, I love him as a coach and an offensive mind, but I knew that guy ain't gonna be at USC no longer than the end of next season. ... All he needs is a home-run hire at defensive coordinator and he's good money."

Kingsbury might be a unicorn, indeed. The effort and energy with which NFL executives have approached him would seem to back up that statement. With offenses moving in a direction that's more college-friendly, and with so many teams hoping to land the next McVay or Nagy, it makes sense that Kingsbury's name would be at the top of many lists.

As one NFL owner (not the Cardinals') told B/R, "Look at the teams in the playoffs. Outside of the Chargers and Patriots, you have offensive minds running things. Dallas [Jason Garrett], Kansas City [Andy Reid], the Rams [Sean McVay], New Orleans [Sean Payton], Indianapolis [Frank Reich] and Philadelphia [Doug Pederson]. Hell, half those teams are coached by former quarterbacks. This is where the league is going, and Kingsbury fits."

He does, having not only coached at a high level but also played at it. That's part of the reason so many players love him. He can walk the walk and talk the talk. And that's ultimately what the Cardinals are hoping for with Kingsbury: someone to groom last year's No. 10 overall pick, Josh Rosen.

Kingsbury's next job will be to develop last year's No. 10 pick, Josh Rosen.
Kingsbury's next job will be to develop last year's No. 10 pick, Josh Rosen.John Amis/Associated Press

Rosen is well-known as an outspoken player who often butted heads with coaches at UCLA and, according to team sources, with the Cardinals last year. Now he'll be tasked with learning from Kingsbury. Will the two mesh? One team official (not for the Cardinals) who has spoken to Kingsbury and evaluated Rosen before the 2018 draft predicted it could be bumpy: "They're going to kill each other. The best chance is that they end up friends, but I think they're too much alike to succeed together."

The biggest obstacles for any coach is the ability to hire a staff. Carrington suggested that will be key for Kingsbury, just like it was for Chip Kelly when he came from college to the NFL. Finding a defensive coordinator who can run that side of things (like Wade Phillips in Los Angeles) is a must.

If Kingsbury can do that, many NFL insiders believe he does have the tools to become a great NFL head coach.

From losing at Texas Tech to a brief relationship with USC to a head coaching job with the Cardinals all in the span of two months, it's been a wild ride for Kingsbury. And the fun is just getting started.



Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.