Kliff Kingsbury took one of the more unique paths to an NFL coaching job in recent memory. He made the leap straight from college to the pros without ever having worked with an NFL team.
That is not entirely out of the ordinary. We’ve seen college coaches with little to no NFL experience make the leap throughout the league’s history, and Urban Meyer and Matt Rhule are two very recent examples of this.
Yet few are quite like Kingsbury, who was fired from Texas Tech before NFL teams knocked on his door.
Kingsbury posted a 35-40 record during his career at Texas Tech and the Red Raiders left him after a disappointing 2018 season. It looked like Kingsbury was going to settle for a coordinator position at USC, but the Cardinals decided to pick him up. So far, the results have paid off.
Here’s a look at Kingsbury’s time at Texas Tech, why the Cardinals chose to sign him, and how exactly his tenure in the desert has worked out.
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Kliff Kingsbury’s record at Texas Tech
Kingsbury spent six years as the head coach of Texas Tech, where he had a 35-40 record. His best season was his first, when he posted an 8-5 record, led the Red Raiders to a top 10 at one point this season and won the Holiday Bowl over Arizona State.
In the next five seasons, Texas Tech fell back. They posted just one winning season, a 7-6 mark in 2015, and failed to get another bowl win in two attempts.
Kingsbury’s problem was never on the offensive side of the ball. His scoring drives were always strong, thanks in large part to the presence of Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes. They ranked in the top 25 in scoring offense in five of Kinsgbury’s six years in charge of the team.
That said, Kingsbury’s defense left a lot to be desired. His staff could never post a better scoring defense than 86 during Kingsbury’s time with the Red Raiders. They ranked in the bottom five in the country three times and the last time once.
|Year||Points per game (rank)||Points per game allowed (rank)|
|2013||35.8 (24º)||30.5 (88º)|
|2014||30.5 (54º)||41.2 (126º)|
|2015.||45.1 (second)||43.6 (125º)|
|2016||43.7 (fifth)||43.5 (128º)|
|2017.||34.3 (23º)||32.2 (100º)|
|2018||37.3 (16th)||31.1 (86º)|
Defensive fighting was what led to many of Texas Tech’s losses, as they came in shootouts they couldn’t stop. That, coupled with three straight seasons below .500 and a five-game losing streak to close 2018, led to Kingsbury’s departure. He briefly landed at USC as an offensive coordinator, but before he even led a game there, the Cardinals called.
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Why did the Cardinals sign Kliff Kingsbury?
The Cardinals signed Kliff Kingsbury after just one year with Steve Wilks, and the decision came under scrutiny. After all, he was fired by Texas Tech and didn’t have a winning record as a head coach. Why would an NFL team take a chance on him?
There were two factors at play in this decision.
First was the story of Kingsbury working with college quarterbacks. During his stops at Houston, Texas A&M and Texas Tech, Kingsbury was able to help turn quarterbacks into some of the best in the country.
In Houston, he worked with Case Keenum, who is the NCAA’s all-time passing leader and became a starter at the NFL level. In his only year at Texas A&M, he helped guide Johnny Manziel to a Heisman Trophy. In 2013, his first year as a head coach at Texas Tech, he chose to start future No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield as a true freshman.
The remainder of Kingsbury’s time at Texas Tech produced two more NFL quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes and Davis Webb. Mahomes is obviously the bigger name of the two and at the time of Kingsbury’s hiring he was coming off an MVP season in his first year as the Chiefs’ starter.
The success of those quarterbacks certainly helped Kingsbury, but so did the so-called “Sean McVay effect.” The young offensive prodigy had quickly emerged as one of the best coaches in the NFL, and league teams were looking to copy that approach.
“[NFL teams] he wants to be at the forefront and be able to keep up with that type of team in the future “, Warren Sharp, NFL analyst said of teams that go after offensive gurus. “So they are looking to be a little more aggressive with the thought process of offensive coaches and a lot of these younger guys seem much more willing to create, adapt and even steal ideas from other teams and incorporate them into their game plan.
“I think that’s what it takes to be successful in the NFL coaching offense right now. It takes a great open mind.”
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Kliff Kingsbury’s NFL record
Kingsbury’s time with the Cardinals has been good to date. Despite the scrutiny he faced for his hiring, his offensive system has worked. Arizona was only a mid-level offense in its first year in the desert, but since then, they have been in the top 10 under Kingsbury’s tutelage.
The Cardinals’ offense under Kingsbury
|Year||Yard range||Score range|
Unsurprisingly, Kingsbury has also helped Kyler Murray grow and improve each season. Cardinsl’s quarterback has a 73.5 percent completion rate in 2021, a 9.1 percent increase from his rookie year and good for the NFL leadership.
Murray’s improved accuracy and ability to score TDs and make explosive plays influence his case as one of the NFL MVP candidates. Kingsbury at least deserves some credit for its development.
And the defense? That was always Kingsbury’s Achilles heel at Texas Tech, but he has found a solution at the NFL level. Vance Joseph.
The former Broncos coach is one of the best defensive minds in football. During his three years with the Cardinals, Arizona’s defense has improved every year. It started out as one of the worst in the league. He is now among the best in the league.
Defending the Cardinals under Joseph
|Year||Yard range||Score range|
The hiring of Joseph. It was a strong one for Kingsbury, who needed some experience as a veteran coach in his personal and defensive health. He scored two goals at once by hiring Joseph, one of the youngest and brightest defensive minds in the league.
Kingsbury’s offense and Joseph’s defense are firing at full throttle this year and that has led the Cardinals to a 7-0 start. It seems almost certain that they will improve on the record from the previous season, as they did between the first and second seasons.
Cardinals records by year:
- 2019: 5-10-1
- 2020: 8-8
- 2021: 7-0
So while Kingsbury may not have been a great college coach, he seems to have figured things out on a professional level. And it’s all because he relies on his strong offensive system and found someone to help him put together a great defense for the first time in quite some time.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.