Arizona Cardinals, Kliff Kingsbury, and the pursuit of an offensive genius

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals are ignoring their critics by going all in with their hire of college offensive mastermind, Kliff Kingsbury, while creating an unusual path to the NFL head coaching ranks.

The Arizona Cardinals surprised many when they opted to hire Kliff Kingsbury as the team’s 42nd head coach in franchise history.

Kingsbury’s path to becoming a head coach in the NFL was odd to say the least. Texas Tech fired the 39-year-old after a disappointing 5-7 finish on the season. The offensive mastermind wasn’t unemployed long. Kingsbury agreed to an offensive coordinator position on Clay Helton’s staff for USC. Then the coach started receiving NFL interest from the Cardinals and the New York Jets, but the university blocked him from any potential interviews.

“It’s unfortunate, obviously,” Kingsbury said during a radio interview with Jim Rome. “That was never my intention, and I think the world of that university, I think the world of coach Helton, the job he’s gonna do there. I turned down a bunch of opportunities to be a Trojan and go to USC because of the great program and what I knew we could do there. This came up, and it was just one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities I couldn’t pass up, but I really enjoyed my time there and will be pulling for them moving forward.”

Becoming an NFL head coach is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The Cardinals have shown how serious they were about making Kingsbury in charge of their turnaround. Arizona is even reportedly paying all of his $150,000 buyout with USC.

Many have wondered why the Cardinals appear so obsessed with a head coach that went 35-40 in five seasons as the head guy at Texas Tech. The answer couldn’t be more simple — the NFL has become an offensive-driven league, and it was time for Kingsbury’s offense to make the leap.

The new-age NFL has finally accepted college’s Air Raid offensive system by adding several concepts and tuning each play to fit in today’s league. The creator of the Air Raid system, Mike Leach (currently Washington State’s head coach), is instrumental in Kingsbury’s upcoming. The two were together at Texas Tech when Leach was the head coach and Kingsbury the quarterback.

“I’m kind of curious myself,” Leach said during a radio appearance on 98.7 Arizona’s Sports Station. “He had a tough go at times there at Texas Tech, but he’s a smart, sharp guy. I always enjoyed coaching him. He’s a very dedicated fellow and watched all kinds of film, would work out extra, come early, leave late, so he’s extremely dedicated. I always wish Kliff the best, so I hope it works out well.”

Kingsbury does some NFL experience, so he’s not entirely coming into the league not knowing what to expect. The quarterback was drafted in the sixth-round of the 2003 NFL Draft to the New England Patriots. After spending his rookie season on injured reserve, Kingsbury was waived by the team in 2004 but was still able to make an impact on Patriots star Tom Brady.

“He’s just a great football mind, and he’ll be successful wherever he’s at,” the Patriots quarterback said about Kingsbury while appearing on WEEI’s “Mut and Callahan” earlier this week.

The mystery now is how Kingsbury will run his Air Raid system in the NFL compared to his college days. Arizona has tasked him with the development of 2018 first-round pick, Josh Rosen, as the quarterback comes off a shaky rookie season that saw him finishing dead last in QBR (26.0 rating). The Cardinals aim to get their best out of their investment in Rosen and believe Kingsbury will be the guy to get the young quarterback to reach his full potential.

Kingsbury possesses a solid track record with quarterbacks becoming successful in the NFL, which explains the Cardinals confidence in his abilities to bring Rosen along. The coach has mentored the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Case Keenum, Baker Mayfield, and Johnny Manziel.

Mahomes has been the most successful of the group as he enjoyed a season that saw him throw 50 touchdown passes, putting himself in the NFL MVP conversation. None of these accolades would be possible for Mahomes if not for Kingsbury. Even Chiefs head coach, Andy Reid, tailored his offense to Mahomes’ strengths in college incorporating spread concepts from Kingsbury’s playbook into his already quarterback friendly West Coast offense.

“I think he could be a great NFL coach,” Mahomes said prior to the news of Kingsbury going to the Cardinals. “He has the work ethic, he has the passion for the game. He loves this sport and I know he’ll be able to relate to quarterbacks.”

After seeing all this success — Cardinals general manager, Steve Keim, had no doubt Kingsbury was his guy to turn Rosen into the franchise quarterback Arizona expects. The risky hire could potentially backfire and cost Keim his job, but the general manager has the utmost confidence in the hiring.

Team President Michael Bidwill, possesses the same confidence as his general manager. Bidwill explained to reporters what the thought process was in the hiring of Kingsbury during the coach’s introductory press conference.

“Look at today’s NFL and you look at the college game, especially the last several years, has come into the pro game,” Bidwill said. “When you look at the output of his offenses, both when he was a coordinator in college and as a head coach, it’s really impressive, the amount of points he puts up, where he positions his offenses. And you look at the six quarterbacks that he tutored and coached that have come into the National Football League.”

The Cardinals brass has said all the right things about their hiring of Kingsbury. The coach’s ability to mentor quarterbacks, his NFL background and his innovative offensive system put him in this position.

Next: Kingsbury needs Larry Fitzgerald on the Cardinals

Arizona is rolling the dice on the first-time NFL coach, as it looks to continue the trend of finding the next offensive mastermind from the likes of Matt Nagy, Sean McVay, Doug Pederson, and Frank Reich, to name a few. The Cardinals believe they’ve found just that in Kingsbury.

Time will tell just how right — or wrong — they were about their choice.

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