A sub-.500 coaching record wasn't good enough to keep Kliff Kingsbury as the head coach at Texas Tech, but the NFL certainly didn't appear dissuaded in trying to lure him to run a franchise.
After talking to both the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals about their head-coaching vacancy — after a brief stay as USC's offensive coordinator — Kingsbury accepted the Cardinals' job on Tuesday. The team confirmed the hire and will introduce him in a media conference on Wednesday.
Kingsbury had met with the Jets about their vacancy, and reports indicated that the team was trying its best not to allow him to board a plane to Arizona. But the Cardinals appear to have won out in this battle.
Kingsbury spent six seasons in Lubbock as the head coach and consistently cranked out high-caliber offenses with the Red Raiders. But a losing record (35-40) and only two winning seasons, plus a 19-35 mark against Big 12 opponents, led to the school dismissing him in November. He was 33 years old when he took over at his alma mater.
Now Kingsbury is 39, and he's suddenly in charge of an NFL franchise, even though it appeared he'd be running the Trojans' offense next season not that long ago. He's credited with helping develop NFL quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes, Davis Webb and Case Keenum, whom he coached at Houston. Kingsbury also coached Baker Mayfield in his first year at Tech before Mayfield left to walk on at Oklahoma.
Mahomes has been a proponent of Kingsbury's, with the possible league MVP saying Tuesday that he believes his former college coach "could be a great head coach," adding that Kingsbury will "be able to relate to quarterbacks."
KIngsbury now will work with another talented, young quarterback in Josh Rosen, which was viewed by league sources as an attractive asset for the Arizona job, even with Rosen struggling badly at times as a rookie. The former UCLA QB and No. 9 overall selection completed 55.2 percent of his passes for 2,278 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 13 starts (14 games).
The Cardinals also own the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2019 after finishing last season with a 3-13 mark under first-year head coach Steve Wilks, who was let go in an admission by the team that they mishandled Bruce Arians' departure a year ago.
But did they get it right now? The franchise certainly is taking a massive risk in hiring a college coach who only had brief exposure to the NFL as a player, with cups of coffee on the rosters of the Patriots (where he won a Super Bowl ring as a practice-squad player), Jets, Bills and Broncos. Kingsbury played in exactly one regular-season game in his career with the Jets, mopping up at the end of a 27-0 blowout to the Broncos in Week 11 of the 2005 season.
He quickly moved up the coaching totem pole at Houston, first as an offensive assistant and later as offensive coordinator before leaving for Tech. Kingsbury's offenses routinely ranked among the NCAA leaders in production, but his defenses never stacked up.
Who Kingsbury surrounds himself with — especially on defense — will be vital for having success as a coach in the NFL. The loaded NFC West should remain stout for the next few years, especially as the 49ers continue to grow, and the Cardinals are coming off a season in which they ranked 26th in points allowed and 32nd vs. the run.
But Kingsbury's chops as an offensive coach also will be put to the test. The Cardinals were dead last in several categories, including yards gained, yards rushing, yards passing, time of possession, first downs and points scored. How quickly he can work with Rosen to improve the Cardinals' passing game will give us an idea whether Arizona can be competitive any time soon.