Kliff Kingsbury took one of the most unique paths to an NFL coaching jobs in recent memory. He made the jump straight from college to the pros without ever having worked with an NFL team.
That’s not entirely out of the norm. We’ve seen college coaches with little to no NFL experience make the leap over the course of the league’s history, and Urban Meyer and Matt Rhule are two very recent examples of this.
However few are like Kingsbury, who was fired from Texas Tech before NFL teams came knocking on his door.
Kingsbury posted a 35-40 record during his career at Texas Tech and the Red Raiders moved on from him after a disappointing 2018 season. It looked like Kingsbury was going to settle for a coordinator job at USC, but the Cardinals decided to scoop him up. So far, the results have paid off.
Here’s a look back at Kingsbury’s time at Texas Tech, why the Cardinals elected to hire him and how exactly his tenure in the desert has worked out.
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Kliff Kingsbury record at Texas Tech
Kingsbury spent six years as the head coach at Texas Tech, where he had a record of 35-40. His best season was his first, when he posted an 8-5 record, led the Red Raiders to a top-10 ranking at one point in the season and won the Holiday Bowl over Arizona State.
In the five seasons following that, Texas Tech regressed. They posted just one winning season — a 7-6 mark in 2015 — and were unable to earn another bowl victory in two attempts.
Kingsbury’s problem was never on the offensive side of the ball. His scoring units were always strong, thanks largely to the presence of Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes. They ranked 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 was never able to post a scoring defense better than 86th during Kingsbury’s time with the Red Raiders. They ranked bottom-five in the country three times and dead-last once.
|Year||Points per game (rank)||Points per game allowed (rank)|
|2013||35.8 (24th)||30.5 (88th)|
|2014||30.5 (54th)||41.2 (126th)|
|2015||45.1 (2nd)||43.6 (125th)|
|2016||43.7 (5th)||43.5 (128th)|
|2017||34.3 (23th)||32.2 (100th)|
|2018||37.3 (16th)||31.1 (86th)|
The defensive struggles were what led to a lot of Texas Tech’s losses, as they came in shootouts where they couldn’t get stops. That — along with three straight sub-.500 seasons and a five-game losing streak to close 2018 — led to Kingsbury’s departure. He briefly landed at USC as the offensive coordinator, but before he even coached a game there, the Cardinals came calling.
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Why did the Cardinals hire Kliff Kingsbury?
The Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury after just one year under Steve Wilks, and the move was met with 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 Kingsbury’s history working with college quarterbacks. During his stops at Houston, Texas A&M and Texas Tech, Kingsbury was able to help develop quarterbacks into some of the nation’s best.
At 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 lone year at Texas A&M, he helped guide Johnny Manziel to a Heisman Trophy. In 2013, his first year as the head coach at Texas Tech, he elected to start future No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield as a walk-on true freshman.
The rest 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 was coming off an MVP season in his first year as a starter for the Chiefs.
The success of those quarterbacks certainly helped Kingsbury, but so did the so-called “Sean McVay effect.” The young, offensive wunderkind had quickly emerged as one of the NFL’s best coaches and teams across the league were looking to copy that approach.
“[NFL teams] want to be on the cutting edge and be able to keep pace with those types of teams in the future,” NFL analyst Warren Sharp said of teams pursuing offensive gurus. “So they’re looking to get a little more aggressive with the thought process of offensive coaches and a lot of these younger guys seem to be much more willing to create, adapt, 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 requires a big open mind.”
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Kliff Kingsbury record in NFL
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 just a mid-level offense in his first year in the desert but since then, they have been a top-10 unit under Kingsbury’s tutelage.
Cardinals’ offense under Kingsbury
|Year||Yardage rank||Scoring rank|
Unsurprisingly, Kingsbury has kelped Kyler Murray to grown and improve each season as well. The Cardinsl QB has a 73.5 percent completion rate in 2021, a 9.1 percent increase compared to his rookie year and good for the NFL lead.
Murray’s improved accuracy and ability to score TDs and make explosive plays all play into his case as one of the NFL’s MVP candidates. Kingsbury at least deserves some credit for his developmen.
What about 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 better defensive minds in football. Over his three years with the Cardinals, Arizona’s defense has improved every year. It began as one of the league’s worst. Now, it’s among the league’s best.
Cardinals’ defense under Joseph
|Year||Yardage rank||Scoring rank|
The Joseph hire. was a strong one for Kingsbury, who needed some veteran coaching excperience on his staff and defensive health. He accomplished two goals at once by hiring Joseph, one of the bright, younger defensive minds in the league.
The Kingsbury offense and Joseph defense are firing on all cylinders this year and that has what has led the Cardinals to a 7-0 start. It seems nearly guarnateed that they’ll improve upon their previous season’s record, as they did between their 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 at the pro level. And it’s all because he trusts his strong offensive system and found somebody to help him put toegheter a great defense for the first time in quite a while.