The mandate for every football coach is the same: win. The new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals is no different. He’s Kliff Kingsbury – that’s a name that’s familiar to many Texans, including The Standard’s own Michael Marks.
Kingsbury’s story is a bit of a fairy tale: he was a star quarterback at New Braunfels High School, rewrote the record books at Texas Tech, and once his playing days were over, he became the Red Raiders’ head coach in 2012.
“Unfortunately, his tenure at Tech did not have a fairy tale ending,” Marks says. “The Red Raiders were successful his first year, but then posted 27 wins against 35 losses over the next five seasons – and even though Kingsbury is still a beloved figure in Lubbock, the team’s performance was bad enough that he was fired in November.”
And yet, Kingsbury is moving up in the coaching ranks, not just to another college job, but to the NFL.
“From where we sit on the outside, it seems reasonable to ask about how failure in Texas college football will translate to success in the NFL,” Marks says.
Michael Huyghe is an attorney who worked in the NFL for 30 years, including as the general manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“It’s not always easy in black-and-white,” he says.
Choosing a head coach is no small decision for an NFL team. The coach is the main football mind in a multi-million-dollar football business.
“Teams don’t just make these choices willy-nilly,” Marks says. “It’s typically a methodical, calculated process.”
But according to Huyghue, it can also be prone to fads.
“Well it’s a copycat industry,” Huyghue says. “So there’s 32 flavors like Baskin Robbins, and as soon as one sells better than the other then everybody wants salted caramel, or they want strawberries – whatever’s moving the best.”
Kingsbury fits into the flavor of the month in the NFL.
“So for most of the past 20 years, Texas Tech’s been at the forefront of changing how football is played – and Kingsbury’s been a big part of that as both a player and a coach,” Marks says. “The roots of this actually go back to Texas high school football, but the basic idea is for to spread players out, go fast, and throw the ball. Now this philosophy produced tremendous results at high schools and colleges, but the thought was it couldn’t be done in the pros, because NFL defenders were just too athletic, and the attack might be too much of a gimmick.”
Marks says that’s changed recently, because of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, and former Texas Tech player, Patrick Mahomes.
Marks says Mahomes is now widely regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, even though he’s only in his second year.
“But that wasn’t seen as a sure thing when he came into the league,” Marks says. “There were questions about whether a quarterback who came up in Kingsbury’s system, moving fast, making lots of seemingly simple passes, could be successful in the pros. But so far, so good.”
Jay Leeson is a Tech fan and hosts the Other Side of Texas program in Lubbock.
“The Chiefs is a must-see on Sundays because it’s exactly what we’ve been watching in Jones Stadium in Lubbock. It’s the same offense that we’ve been watching for all these years,” Leeson says.
Marks says Mahomes might win the most valuable player award this season, and the Chiefs have a chance to go to the Super Bowl.
“So lots of teams are looking for a coach who can replicate the success that the Chiefs have had with Mahomes,” he says. “That’s why Huyghue, the former GM, said that a guy like Kingsbury is the flavor of the month, even if he didn’t have ton of success at a lower level. It’s a risk, but Leeson thinks it might pay off.”
“Now this may sound crazy, but in the NFL that’s being defined more and more by Patrick Mahomes, by guys who were one degree separate of Kliff Kingsbury, I’m not gonna be surprised if he does well,” Mahomes says.
So bringing Kingsbury to Arizona is bit of an experiment –to see if this kind of football can keep working in the pros.
“it’s a big bet, and not every NFL observer is convinced it will work,” Marks says. “But if the Cardinals start winning, you’ll see more guys like Kingsbury head to the pros.”