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The 2019 Dynasty-Fantasy and NFL Impact of New Cardinals Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury

February 6, 2019 11:13 AM
February 6, 2019 11:08 AM

I was very excited to conduct this deeper-dive study of new Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury, from the second they announced the ‘shocking’ hire. I knew him, as we all do, to be from the ‘Air Raid’ offensive mindset of head coaches in college. A radical…’a radical’ in NFL terms, but just one of many ‘radicals’ in the college ranks.

After researching Kingsbury’s background and coaching career, and watching several interviews with him, etc., my general conclusion on this hiring was as follows: https://youtu.be/yImkcG7IQeg

That was my feeling on his NFL potential.

Concerning Arizona Cardinals related things for Fantasy Football, my emotions of Kliff Kingsbury as head coach kinda feel like this entire clip (watch to the end): https://youtu.be/gY2k8_sSTsE

That really captures my range of emotions from start to finish of my research.

Initial euphoria, but then the longer I studied…the more I tried to find/keep the excitement…and then I just fizzled out into a realization this has trouble written all over it. His impact will be probably hot right away and then cool off faster than any of us would like it to (for fantasy).

But I was so excited when I first head the news!!! You probably were too. Now, I’m going to ruin your David Johnson-Christian Kirk-Josh Rosen day. Don’t get depressed yet. This story has a happy beginning before the tragic ending…but there is also some potential upside/hope. It’s not totally doomed.

We’ll get into the future, but let’s start by going over the brief history of how Kliff Kingsbury got to this point – and it’s going to leave you scratching your head if you haven’t really dug into this story/person before…

Kingsbury was one of the original ‘system quarterbacks’ in college football – ‘system’ quarterbacks, bac in the day, were QBs who NFL people were all skeptical of coming out of college and then they went on to do nothing in the NFL (mostly because they never got a real chance or were met with offenses like they had in college). The old-school ‘system’ college QBs became self-fulfilling prophesies of NFL failure.

Kingsbury was a top Texas high school QB prospect and a high-end academic. He went to Texas Tech to play for a head coach by the name of Spike Dykes (yes, that is true…fill-in your own jokes). Kingsbury played sparingly as a freshman (1999) and Dykes was fired at season’s end. It just so happened a man by the name of Mike Leach got his first college head coaching gig to replace Dykes. Leach would go on to on re-make college football passing games with his ‘Aid Raid’ style of offense – and his first quarterback was Kliff Kingsbury.

If Mike Leach never goes to Texas Tech, we probably never have this conversation about Kingsbury…we wouldn’t know who he was. Leach and Kingsbury would set all types of records (at the time), and Kingsbury winning several awards for his 2002 senior season. Compiling 5,017 passing yards and 45 TD passes in a season – when those were more unheard-of types of numbers. He wasn’t a serious Heisman candidate because ‘system QB’ and the powers that be would not allow that to happen.

Kingsbury became a 6th-round draft pick for Bill Belichick in 2003, but wasn’t there long/didn’t make the team. Kingsbury bounced around the league for a few years (throwing two passes in his NFL career)…and then played briefly in Europe and then did little-to-nothing in Canada after that. On-field success was not found. After a year as 3rd-string QB in Canada in 2007, Kingsbury was done playing and took a job the following year with the Houston Cougars as an offensive quality control coach.

Kingsbury moved up the coaching ranks quickly. In 2010, he was promoted to co-offensive coordinator and QB coach for the Cougars – and his offense averaged over 50+ points and 600+ yards of offense per game working with Case Keenum. In 2012, he was grabbed by Kevin Sumlin to be the O-C and QB coach for Texas A&M, where he spawned the Johnny Manziel freshman season…a Heisman Award winning season. Kingsbury leveraged all that to become the head coach of Texas Tech in 2013.

In his Red Raiders debut season (2013), he shockingly (at the time) pushed walk-on freshman Baker Mayfield as his starter…and Tech won their first 7 games of the season and achieved a #10 ranking in the country mid-season.

*It’s from this point in time that Kliff Kingsbury head coaching career collapsed. The 7-0 debut/start in 2013 was THE PEAK for Kingsbury*

Mayfield got hurt during the early undefeated streak that year, and Davis Webb took over. The Tech schedule got a lot tougher as the season unfolded, and they lost five games in a row after the 7-0 start but did win their bowl game in the end. An 8-5 season, a bowl win, great QB play and offensive stats – season ticket sales exploded.


Baker Mayfield transferred in a tiff with the staff/Kingsbury (more on that in a moment). Davis Webb became ‘the guy’ and Tech went a disappointing 4-8 in Kingsbury’s second year. A kid by the name of Patrick Mahomes began to emerge for Kingsbury in 2014.

Eventually, Kingsbury would settle on Mahomes as his quarterback, and Davis Webb would transfer. In 2015 and 2016, possessing the great Patrick Mahomes – the Red Raiders fizzled with a 7-6 and 5-7 record those two seasons. Possessing the NFL’s best QB in 2018, Kingsbury could only muster a 12-13 record with Mahomes in his final two seasons of college play…a 9-13 record in his final 22 games as college QB. Lots of offense…lots of losses.

Texas Tech would go 6-7 in 2017 with Nic Shimonek at quarterback…with a bowl loss. The heat was on Kingsbury…big-time. In 2018, the Red Raiders disappointed again with a 5-7 record. Kingsbury was fired. After a sweet debut in 2013, in his final five seasons (2014-2018) as Texas Tech head coach, Kingsbury posted a record of 27-35 (43.5%) with just one winning season and no top 25 finishes and two bowl losses.

Mike Leach never had a losing record in 10 seasons as Texas Tech head coach. Tommy Tuberville had a winning record in his three seasons before Kingsbury was shoved the head coaching job. Kingsbury had four losing seasons in six years as head man and a losing record overall.

OBVIOUSLY…this was a siren call to the NFL for them to land the next great NFL head coaching prospect!?!?!?

It wasn’t a siren call at all, at first.

The best Kingsbury could do, after his firing from Texas Tech, was landing a job as offensive coordinator with USC for 2019. He took that job, and then got interest (somewhat from out of nowhere) from the NFL. The Jets and Cardinals took interest. Kingsbury had a relationship with Arizona GM Steve Keim…and ‘boom’ here he is – from fired-at-a-mediocre-college-football-program to now NFL head coach.

How is this possible?

Anything is possible with the extraordinarily poorly run Arizona Cardinals. When ‘son of the owner’ is in charge…’good luck’. We’ve already seen ‘President/Son-of-owner’ Michael Bidwell in action on the Amazon documentary on the Cardinals from a few years ago. Bidwell is a nice guy-detached-disaster and Steve Keim is an overrated waste of time as well. After their Bruce Arians roller coaster ride, they followed that with an even bigger debacle of a decision in hiring Steve Wilks…and now, here’s their next choice – Kliff Kingsbury. You could almost assume Kingsbury’s future failure just by the people involved in his hiring/the ones running the team.

How did this Kingsbury hiring happen? Besides ‘is friends with Sean McVay, which is the main hiring criteria in the NFL now…I think Steve Keim is hanging onto his job for dear life and has everything riding on 2019 and needs to have Josh Rosen proven to be a great draft pick/franchise QB. After what we all saw in 2018, most people are on-the-fence with Rosen. This could all work out if the supposed QB whisperer, Kliff Kingsbury, can make it happen. It’s not a crazy theory considering Kingsbury’s track record of quarterbacks. However, it also overlooks A LOT of things.

Kingsbury has been great racking offensive numbers, as a head coach, but not wins. It’s easy to rack numbers if you just throw all the time with limited huddling, etc., and throwing the ball heavy right down to the last-minute while losing by 20+ points. If Kingsbury is such a QB genius, why did he run-off, to a degree, Baker Mayfield? He possessed Patrick Mahomes for 2+ seasons and could barely win a games with him. After he lost Mahomes to the pros, Kingsbury still produced top offensive numbers but not top NFL QB prospects. Is Kingsbury a QB whisperer or just has a good eye for QB talent and acquires them, puts them in a friendly system and they put up numbers but not wins? Or is it that Kingsbury is lucky he landed in places with great QB prospects and he really can’t find them himself?

Consider this piece from CBS. It’s an interview in 2018 with Baker Mayfield about Kliff Kingsbury:

Baker Mayfield may have won the Heisman Trophy with Oklahoma, but the Austin, Texas, native hasn't forgotten his roots. Mayfield played one season with Texas Tech in 2013, the same year that coach Kliff Kingsbury arrived. The rookie Cleveland Browns quarterback went 5-0 as a starter that season, but in an interview with Fox Sports for the docuseries "All The Way Up," he said that Kingsbury treated Mayfield like a star -- before ghosting the quarterback when he sprained his MCL in a 54-16 win over Kansas.

"All of a sudden it was as if I hadn't played for him, hadn't done anything for him. It was just different after I got hurt," Mayfield said, per TMZ.

Mayfield's father, meanwhile, added that Kingsbury "completely withdrew his contact." In fact, he revealed that Kingsbury "didn't talk to Baker. He didn't include Baker in the meetings."

As for Mayfield, the final straw was when the former walk-on wasn't offered a scholarship for his efforts with Texas Tech.

"I've invested a lot into this and now you're telling me you don't have a scholarship for a guy who won 5 games after choosing to come here? That was the final straw for me," Mayfield said.

Mayfield threw eight touchdowns and five interceptions as a freshman with Texas Tech before the injury. Upon his return, he had four touchdowns and four interceptions, and Texas Tech lost to Kansas State, Baylor and Texas.

Kingsbury offered up a response to TMZ, but he doesn't seem affected by Mayfield's comments.

"I've always been a huge fan of Baker and loved working with him," he said. "He had an incredible career at Oklahoma, and I wish him nothing but continued success as he begins his NFL career."

Baker Mayfield is not one to suffer fools…so, if Baker is down on Kingsbury, you have to then assume that Kingsbury might be ‘a fool’. Kingsbury walked away from, buried Mayfield after a shocking start to his true freshman season – he could’ve at least offered him a scholarship. After the 5-0 start to Kingsbury’s career at Tech, with Mayfield as his guy, he then went 30-40 (38.5%) as a head coach from there – and that’s considering games with an FCS/D2 layup game to start seasons and playing some Big-12 dregs along the way annually.

Perhaps, Kingsbury saw off-field trouble in Mayfield and preferred the QB that is very much like Kingsbury (studious and low key) – Davis Webb? Webb is pretty good (been buried in the NFL). It wasn’t long before Kingsbury ditched Webb for Patrick Mahomes…and coached Mahomes into little win-loss success.

How is it Kingsbury is known as some kind of QB soothsayer given all his losses at Texas Tech?

Kingsbury lost Baker Mayfield’s confidence/he turned away from Mayfield (I love that Mayfield beat Kingsbury twice in their two meetings after, scoring 60+ each game on Kliff). Who walks away from Baker Mayfield?

Who has Patrick Mahomes three years and cannot generate an overall winning record or a bowl win with him…in college?

From my vantage point, Kingsbury has done nothing but roll offensive numbers and has been graced to be near great QBs for a couple of year stretch…and then totally under-performed, as a team, with them.

Why are we celebrating or hiring this guy to head coach anything?

On paper, this seems like the stupidest hiring of all-time (going to battle for the title with the Steve Wilks hiring), but I wanted to research Kingsbury’s persona and watch him speak, see what his philosophy and communications are like. Maybe, I was being too harsh just looking at the ‘on paper’ results? So, I did more personal study on him. After looking at his coaching results and studying several interviews. I felt like this by the end of things:  https://youtu.be/4TuEWtXBT_0

I watched a couple ‘Day in the Life’ video documentary type pieces on Kingsbury, from his Texas Tech coaching days, and ‘wow’…’electric’ is not the word I would use. Dull. Disinterested. Polite. Senatorial. Possible emotionless robot or serial killer. Watch this later if you wish (10 minutes), see if you get ‘excited’ by Coach Kingsbury: https://youtu.be/Blc08jWT484

Everything I’ve watched on Kingsbury is monotone, expressionless, sanitized…empty. If he was winning…he would probably be considered the quiet genius. Belichick is a quiet genius but has disdain for the media (rightfully so) but is gracious and beloved by most of his players and coaches over the years. Listen to Belichick on CNBC, and he can get deep on things. Make you want to listen. Kingsbury loves the camera, in a sense. He wants to be liked by the media. Studying Kingsbury’s track record and studying his communications…I say, ‘a little aloof’ and ‘empty’. He’s ‘nice’, but ‘where’s the beef’? Players have to love him for sure – all offense and no defense, and no uncomfortableness from a yelling maniac. It’s a double-edge sword style…because you don’t get ‘inspirational’ and ‘makes me better’…but you don’t get too-emotional lunatic or fake tough guy (like a Rex Ryan or Steve Wilks, et. al.).

Kliff Kingsbury strikes me as Jason Garrett minus the incessant clapping and unnecessary F-bombs (to sound cool and relatable, I guess). Kingsbury is G-rated Jason Garrett with a desire to rack a lot of offense, even if meaningless, because then people think you’re an’ offensive genius’. It’s actually clever…easily duping the public/NFL execs.

When you’re a Jason Garrett-type (empty, player-friendly), you can have some NFL success…as can Kingsbury. Why? You’re competing against 31 other NFL head coaches and GMs, 25+ of them are as bad/worse because instead of dull, disinterested, stander-bys, you get mostly micro-managing, power running game lunatics who love football so much they hug and squeeze it to death with coaching methods learned from old ball coaches who wore fedoras and suits on the sidelines. Garrett and Kingsbury won’t meddle and scream bloody murder every other play…and that allows the talent to somewhat carry the day, depending upon the coaches, GM, owner they are surrounded by.

In Kingsbury’s case…he’s pretty much signed his death certificate locking arms with the Cardinals’ President (son-of-owner) and this weak GM – sustained success will be near-impossible.

The intro press conference by Arizona for Kingsbury was a classic… First, Son-of-Owner Steve Bidwell did all the talking to start. He was so proud to let everyone know that in their studies they concluded that the best NFL teams have the best offenses, so they wanted an offensive head coach. No one asked him what study he did a year ago that led him to defensive coach Steve Wilks. Now, I’m supposed to believe Bidwell is studying things…that he’s ‘cracked the code’ on NFL success…he’s just figured out what everyone else knew a decade ago. Great.

GM Steve Keim was mostly silent the whole press conference.

After Bidwell talked about the hire as if he did it alone, Kingsbury was introduced to the media. It was a very short 14+ minute press conference. Bidwell talked for 2-3-4 minutes to open, then Kingsbury took questions for 8-9 minutes and literally said nothing…good media training, I guess, but more so it was not inspiring at all. Mid-presser, the media asked a question for Bidwell/Keim…Keim looked over to Bidwell to see if he could speak, literally. When Bidwell head nodded him, then Keim was allowed to speak…and he did the same shuck and jive about this ‘it’s an offensive league’ they just discovered in the last 2-3 weeks (and as the Super Bowl was a defensive tour de force).

I watched the intro presser after all my other studies and notes that I took. When I watched the presser…I couldn’t believe it. The Arizona dysfunction is so on display it hurts my eyes and ears taking part in it. This is not Kliff Kingsbury, cult of personality, man with a plan who was hired to revamp everything in his illustrious image – this was ‘pals’ Bidwell/Keim trying to right the Josh Rosen wrong. Kingsbury is just the high paid tool…an easy choice to be a stooge because it’s a way better gig/a lot more money doing this than coaching offense at USC. It was a bank robbery by Kingsbury. All Kingsbury is there for is to fix Josh Rosen, to make Bidwell/Keim look smart for drafting Rosen. The wonder-twins will fill his staff in for him. All Kingsbury is there to do is call plays and fix Rosen.

If that is correct…there is no chance the Cardinals are drafting Kyler Murray and changing football as we know it. The hiring of Kingsbury isn’t a game-changer if he’s just there to fix Rosen…it’s the same old NFL. Desperate team presidents and GMs groping around for something that will work…because nothing they’ve done prior is really working. If you roll the dice long enough, someday you’ll get a Yahtzee. Kingsbury is their latest dice roll attempt.

However, the NFL is a series of dice rolls. And reality is you’re not getting Yahtzee on the next roll. How could anyone think this will work for the long-term? Failed, out-of-touch team president. Failed, should’ve been fired a year ago GM. And a head coach who had no win-loss success in college. How do all these dice rolls expect to wind up with a Yahtzee/a consistent winner? The dice are broken before you even roll them out.

For NFL purposes…it’s a failure waiting to happen.

For Fantasy, not so fast to be so sour…

Kingsbury has three things going for him that can work for fantasy production:

1) He’s definitely an offensive-minded head coach. This is not Steve Wilks or John Fox or Jeff Fisher. Offense is getting ready to happen, even if garbage time only.

2) Kingsbury could be to coaching as Lamar Jackson or Deshaun Watson are to quarterbacking in 2017-2018. NFL defenses are still not used to college spread offenses and spread QBs can succeed quickly/early on taking advantage (see: Chip Kelly for a moment). They get figured out, but it might take a year or two.

If Kingsbury goes ‘Air Raid’, I’m not sure NFL defenses will know how to fully handle it. Which may not mean wins for Arizona, but it will mean good-great offensive numbers – and the numbers coming via the passing game. David Johnson should be fine, definitely better than 2018, but Christian Kirk and maybe Larry Fitzgerald may have a field day of output…so, too Josh Rosen. Just sheer volume, not necessarily quality of play.

…and then there is #3. And #3 may not happen. #3 changes everything…or not.

If the Kingsbury story ends with the current regime trying to prove Josh Rosen, the GM and Kingsbury will be gone in two years (Keim this time next year).

I will change my tune to neutral/wait and see with excitement (instead of ‘eventually doomed’) if one thing happens in April…

3) If the Cardinals draft Kyler Murray #1 (or top 10), then none of the Kingsbury history matters as much. It means the Cardinals desperation is to become relevant, possibly change football in the short-term -- and to not lose the state of Nevada (which they are the #1 team for that state) as a fan-base to the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders. It means Kingsbury meant everything he said about Kyler Murray and has some sway in decision making…and he is going to install the ‘Air Raid’ with a quarterback the likes of which the NFL has never seen before. It will be a total shock to the NFL system. That story would impress me.

If this ends up Kingsbury just trying to rehab Josh Rosen and them drafting whatever is expected at #1…that story is the typical one and leads to quick win-loss demise (along with nice offensive stats). And I think, sadly, this (the non-Kyler story) is the story to come.

If the Cardinals really wanted to hire an offensive guru, and if they really did want to change football…why not hire Mike Leach? Leach invented this style of offense, in a sense…and has had college success everywhere with it. Kingsbury runs it and has been a win-loss failure. Why not hire Mike Leach? Kingsbury is more easily controlled by timid Bidwell/Keim…which is what this is all about…which is why I’m not excited about it as a radical move – because it’s not. It’s typical NFL, disguised as radical.

The only thing radical about this hiring is the fact that it may be the single worst qualified, worst resumed candidate to ever get a head coaching job in recent NFL history.

If the Arizona Cardinals take Kyler Murray #1, then forget most of the prior 3,000+ words I cranked out.

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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics. 

Email rc4metrics@gmail.com

Learn more about RC and the Fantasy Football Metrics system >>