Kliff Kingsbury’s Head Coaching Future Was Apparent Even During Patriots Stint

The NFL is an unpredictable business. It also moves quickly.

Case in point: Just three days ago, it was reported if Josh McDaniels left New England to become a head coach, former Patriots quarterback and Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury could take over as offensive coordinator. Now Kingsbury, 39, is head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, and McDaniels said he’s sticking around as Patriots offensive coordinator.

Full disclosure: This story was supposed to be about Kingsbury, potential future Patriots play-caller, not Kingsbury, current NFL head coach. But the NFL is tricky. And just like McDaniels had to adjust when the Green Bay Packers chose to hire Matt LaFleur, not him, as head coach, so does the league’s media.

Kingsbury had the most unlikely ascent to head coaching the NFL has seen in some time. He was fired as Texas Tech’s head coach after going 5-7 in 2018 and 35-40 in six seasons with the Red Raiders. He agreed to become USC’s offensive coordinator until NFL teams came calling, so he resigned. A month and a half after he wasn’t good enough to head an NCAA program, Kingsbury suddenly is at the top of his profession in Arizona. It’s an amazing story, even if it’s fair to question the hire.

Kingsbury first entered the NFL with the Patriots in 2003 as a sixth-round pick out of Texas Tech. He spent the season on injured reserve and was cut after his second training camp. He kicked around for two more seasons with the New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos and Jets and even got into a regular season game, completing 1 of 2 passes for 17 yards with New York. After a year with NFL Europe and another with the CFL, Kingsbury moved on to coaching.

Even during his brief time with the Patriots, Kingsbury showed signs that coaching might be in his future.

“He’s just a great football mind, and he’ll be successful wherever he’s at,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said on WEEI’s “Mut and Callahan” this week.

Kingsbury shared a QB room with Brady, Rohan Davey and Damon Huard, who’s now director of external relations at his alma mater, the University of Washington.

“He was just a really good dude,” Huard said about Kingsbury. “Kinda quiet but real cerebral, smart, hard worker.”

Huard said he recently reconnected with Kingsbury when Texas Tech offered his son, Sam, a scholarship. Sam wound up committing with the Huskies.

Even in 2003, Huard could tell Kingsbury, then 24, had what it took to be a coach.

“You just saw his passion for football,” Huard said. “He was eating it up. You never know, but certainly, he had a high football IQ and a passion for the game and was a hard worker. You put those three things together, if you want to go into coaching after you’re done playing, you’ve got a chance to have some success.”

Kingsbury is with the Cardinals now, so this is kind of moot, but some wondered if he would have been able to step in as Patriots offensive coordinator after just one year of playing in the system 15 years ago. Huard believed he could.

“So many of these things that people do are all the same,” Huard said. “It’s just the way media call it, it’s like a different language. I think for him, it would be pretty easy to get back into the mix as far as what the Patriots do currently, and he’d also offer some of his wrinkles and what he’s done with that air-raid offense in college football, which is starting to find its way into pro football. I don’t think it would be as hard for a guy like Kliff to relearn the Patriot language and incorporate some of his stuff into it.”

Of course, that’s not going to happen at this point. But it shows Kingsbury shouldn’t have an issue creating a pro-style offense with the Cardinals after his only coaching experience came in college at Houston, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

We attempted to get a comment out of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on Kingsbury, but, as expected, he’s on to Sunday’s divisional-round matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers.

“Yeah, right now I’m really just focused on trying to get ready for the Chargers, and I think the people that aren’t involved in the game, we’ll talk about them some other time,” Belichick said.

Belichick did deliver a funny one-liner about Kingsbury when asked about former Patriots and Texas Tech wide receiver Wes Welker in 2009. Belichick said they discovered Welker while scouting Kingsbury. They wound up drafting Kingsbury and allowed Welker to go undrafted. The Patriots didn’t acquire Welker until he was four seasons into his NFL career in 2007.

“We got the wrong guy,” Belichick said of Kingsbury. “I did a pretty bad job on that.”

Thumbnail photo via Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports Images

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