DAN BICKLEY

Kliff Kingsbury hire refreshes, brings life back to Arizona Cardinals

Jan 8, 2019, 5:22 PM
FILE - In this Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, file photo, Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury talks to quarte...
FILE - In this Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, file photo, Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury talks to quarterback Jett Duffey (7) during a timeout in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma in Lubbock, Texas. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson, File)
(AP Photo/Brad Tollefson, File)

The metamorphosis is stunning. The Cardinals are no longer an embarrassment, no longer an endangered species in Arizona sports. They are once again that special blend of fresh and cool.

Kewl.

As with Kliff Kingsbury, the “K” makes a difference.

Kingsbury is the Cardinals’ latest head coach, and the antithesis of his predecessor. He is young, energetic and quarterback-centric. He’s a game-planning savant and a play-calling genius. He is the closest thing to Rams’ head coach Sean McVay, whose offensive scheming has flipped the NFL on its ear.

Kingsbury is also the second head coach hired since Black Monday claimed 25 percent of the workforce. Which means the Cardinals acted fast, driven by desperation and not deliberation. It’s proof of how humiliated they all were in 2018. And it will be hard for any other franchise to top Arizona in headlines or intrigue, including Bruce Arians’ debut press conference in Tampa.

That alone makes the move a smashing success.

Kingsbury is hardly a slam-dunk. He posted a losing record as head coach at Texas Tech. His “Coach Bro” appeal might not work so well when addressing 53 men on a daily basis. He watched Kalen Ballage score eight touchdowns against his defense in the span of three hours. Like Steve Wilks, Kingsbury’s teams rarely stopped the run.

But he’s exciting. The Next Big Thing. An innovator. A former quarterback who mastered the Air Raid offense under Mike Leach. Deeply respected by Tom Brady. Heavily influenced by his observations of Bill Belichick during a short stint in New England. Looks like a movie star while wearing designer sunglasses, and he’ll get to do that a lot in Arizona.

Kingsbury’s charisma and swag bring sizzle to this story. He has a reputation for making female fans swoon. Stores in Lubbock, Texas, stocked T-shirts that read, “Our Coach is Hotter than Your Coach.” In a celebrity-obsessed culture, that only helps his status and presence inside a locker room.

But this hire is inspiring for reasons of substance. He serves Arizona’s primary mission, which is the development of quarterback Josh Rosen, who regressed under the former regime. He will spur season-ticket renewals and kill the apathy that sprouted like weeds in December. His youthful energy will make it nearly impossible for Larry Fitzgerald to retire. He guarantees the sellout streak at State Farm Stadium will continue. He makes the NFC West the division of the future in the NFL.

Imagine the conversations and ideas that will flow between Kingsbury and Rosen. Even if the Cardinals flounder on defense in 2019, at least they will be growing the most important individual on their roster. And in the NFL, an elite quarterback masks most flaws.

In some regards, McVay had an easier path. He was already in the NFL when promoted to head coach. He understood the profession and the landscape. Kingsbury is different. One morning, he was a failed collegiate head coach latching on to a launching pad job at USC. The next, he was suddenly one of the hottest candidates in the NFL.

But McVay’s success will surely help, giving Kingsbury a credibility he has yet to earn on his own. The fan base is energized. The players surely feel the same way. The hiring will greatly benefit Steve Keim, a general manager who gained a head coach and lost a hot seat with one masterful stroke.

Once again, the Cardinals have our hearts and our full attention. This time, they better not fumble.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

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