Kliff Kingsbury never appeared in a regular-season game for the New England Patriots. But he left his one season in Foxboro with two things he’ll always cherish:
1. A Super Bowl ring, which he received after the Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, and…
2. An overflowing reservoir of football knowledge.
“I learned more football than probably anywhere in my life there,” Kingsbury, now head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, said Wednesday in a conference call with New England reporters. “So I’ve always had great respect for that organization and those men.”
The Patriots drafted Kingsbury in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL Draft, adding him to a quarterback depth chart that featured Tom Brady, Damon Huard and Rohan Davey. Kingsbury had set dozens of passing records at Texas Tech, but New England utilized his brain far more than his arm.
While Huard and Davey served as Brady’s backups, Kingsbury, who spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve, served as a pseudo-quality control coach, completing “projects” assigned by head coach Bill Belichick and his staff that included breaking down film of upcoming opponents.
“Kliff’s a smart guy,” Belichick said this week. “Had a really good football background. Played a different style of offense than what we had here, but very willing to learn. Did a lot of extra things, learned our offense, studied film, studied opponent defenses, just learned a lot about football.
“He did some projects for us and things like that. He was very good at those, and you could tell he’s smart and understood the game, understood concepts. He was not a guy you had to tell anything more than once, and he picked up a lot of things on his own. So he was very, very good to have around on the team and work with.”
Kingbury’s Patriots tenure was fleeting — he returned for training camp in 2004 but was released during final cuts — and his playing career wasn’t much longer. He went on to log stints with the New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills but appeared in just one NFL game, for the Jets in 2006 (1-for-2, 17 yards).
After spending the 2007 season as a third-stringer in the Canadian Football League, he retired and quickly shifted to coaching, joining the University of Houston’s staff as a quality control coach.
“(The Patriots) gave me an opportunity, and I didn’t play to the level that I needed to when I did have my chances, and I knew that,” Kingsbury said. “So I left in a really good spot. Still have relationships with a lot of those guys that have remained in that building — Nick Caserio comes to mind — and they always treated me first-class.”
He also forged a bond with Belichick, who was impressed by Kingsbury’s intelligence and work ethic as a young pro. Kingsbury visited Patriots practice while he was head coach at Texas Tech, and when his alma mater fired him after the 2018 season, Belichick reached out to offer his support.
“That meant a lot to me,” said the 41-year-old, who also exchanged texts with Belichick this past offseason.
Now in his second season as an NFL head coach, Kingsbury still applies lessons he learned under Belichick’s tutelage. Chief among them: the value of preparation.
“Coach Belichick had you prepared for any and every situation that could possibly occur on a football field,” he said. “At times, it seemed tedious with the walkthroughs and you almost felt like he was overdoing it, but then Week 8, the actual situation would pop up, and you’d be prepared for it and the entire team would handle it and find a way to win the game.
“So more than anything, I’d just say preparation (in New England) was at a level that I had never seen before.”
Kingsbury will look to apply those lessons against his old team this week. The 6-4 Cardinals, led by exhilarating second-year quarterback Kyler Murray, are scheduled to visit Gillette Stadium on Sunday for a date with the 4-6 Patriots.