Bill O’Brien won’t be the only offensive-minded coach with Patriots ties available in this hiring cycle.
The Cardinals on Monday fired head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who operated an innovative and explosive offensive in Arizona but coached teams that regularly fell short of expectations. His record in four seasons: 28-37-1, with one postseason appearance and no playoff wins.
The Arizona job was Kingsbury’s first at the NFL level, so he’s never worked under New England coach Bill Belichick. But he has played under Belichick. The Patriots drafted the former Texas Tech quarterback in the sixth round in 2003, and he spent one season with the team, watching from injured reserve as New England won its second Super Bowl in franchise history.
Is Kingsbury’s Patriots connection as strong as someone like O’Brien, who was a New England assistant for five years and its quarterbacks coach and offensive play-caller for three of them? Of course not. A potential candidate like Chad O’Shea also has more direct ties after coaching Patriots wide receivers for a decade (2009-18).
But Belichick rarely hires high-level assistants with whom he does not have a prior relationship, and Kingsbury checks that box, albeit in an unconventional way. Belichick recently praised the 43-year-old for his “aggressive” approach ahead of the Patriots’ Week 14 win in Arizona.
“He has a good offensive system, we saw that in college,” Belichick said. “Had a lot of explosive plays and players at Tech. They’re explosive at Arizona and have been since he got there. Aggressive on fourth down, aggressive in the kicking game, aggressive on defense. Their whole style is pretty aggressive. But offensively they run it, they throw it, get the ball outside, get the ball down the field, quarterback’s athletic. They’ve got a good attack.”
Kingsbury’s respect for Belichick was clear from his comments during the leadup to that game.
“(It’s) just an honor to go against him,” he told reporters. “It’s really humbling. It’s one of those deals where it’s like you’d almost be embarrassed because he’s such a great coach. He knows so much about football. He’s coached every position — he’s the best to ever do it. It’s more of just an honor to go against him and try to match wits with him, if you will, at times.”
Kingsbury’s offensive scheme is radically different than anything the Patriots have run under Belichick, which may dissuade them from pursuing him as a coordinator candidate. Kingsbury also might not be in a rush to start a new gig since he’ll still be banking a guaranteed salary from Arizona for the next four seasons.
But he is at least on New England’s radar. Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer this week reported the Patriots “have done their research” on the former Cardinals and Texas Tech head coach.
“If you want to go completely off the board, here’s one for you: The Patriots have done their research on Kliff Kingsbury,” Breer said on NBC Sports Boston. “I don’t know if Kliff Kingsbury is even going to be available. I don’t know if Kliff Kingsbury’s even going to want to coach if he’s fired in Arizona, but I do think he’s somebody the Patriots would look at as far as if you’re looking at somebody who might be able to move things forward a little bit and has different ideas to inject into what you’re doing.
“I know things haven’t been perfect in Arizona, but one thing defensive coaches have told me consistently over the last couple of years is because it’s so outside of the norm, Kingsbury’s offense might be the most difficult to prepare for in the entire NFL. So that would be one name to put on your radar if the O’Brien thing doesn’t happen.”
O’Brien remains the most logical target for the Patriots, whose offense cratered this season with Matt Patricia and Joe Judge at the helm. But he’s likely to have other suitors, as well, with Tampa Bay and Tennessee rumored as other potential landing spots for the current Alabama OC.
Belichick did not reveal Monday whether he plans to replace Patricia and/or Judge this offseason, saying in his end-of-season news conference that he will “evaluate everything that we’ve done.”
The Patriots finished the season ranked 24th in expected points added per play and Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA after ranking in the top 10 in both categories in 2021. They were 17th in points per game but scored 20.5% of their touchdowns (8 of 39) on defense or special teams.
“Every decision that we’ve made has always been made with the intent to do the best thing for the football team,” Belichick said. “That’s the way it always will be. That’s what it’s been. That’s what it’ll be going forward. At different decision points, you have different opportunities, and as those go along or come along, we’ll continue to evaluate them and always do what we feel is best for the team.”