Is Kliff ready to coach? Cardinals’ assistants believe in Kingsbury

Feb 13, 2019, 5:48 PM | Updated: Feb 14, 2019, 1:53 pm

The Arizona Cardinals new head coach Kliff Kingsbury addresses the media, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, ...

The Arizona Cardinals new head coach Kliff Kingsbury addresses the media, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, in Tempe, Ariz. The Arizona Cardinals introduced Kliff Kingsbury as their new coach a day after hiring the former Texas Tech coach in a bid to revitalize the worst offense in the NFL. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s naysayers believe he’s not ready for the NFL. Critics use buzzwords, charging that his offense’s exotic philosophies won’t work. Cockamanie scheme doesn’t beat talent, for sure.

Arizona’s offensive assistants can agree with that.

So how can a staff built mostly from day-long, get-to-know-you sessions succeed? First, it’s about Kingsbury relaying terminology and philosophy to his coaches, something the staff is currently in the process of doing.

Can it work?

Perception has certainly hurt Kingsbury’s reputation when talk show hosts scream about his credentials to star on The Bachelor over his credentials as a coach. But Cardinals wide receivers coach David Raih, who has a previous relationship with Kingsbury, sees Kingsbury as a son of a military man and a high school football coach.

“He puts on sunglasses and apparently everyone thinks he’s, what’s that guy’s name? Yeah, Ryan Gosling,” said Raih, referencing the actor. “The truth is … I mean, this guy’s focused and disciplined. Honestly, I’ve said before, he’s the most intense person I’ve ever been around, the most disciplined person I’ve ever been around.”

Raih’s get-to-know-you session with Kingsbury in 2013 explains the first-year Cardinals head coach well.

So did another one as Kingsbury led him through a day-long interview for the Arizona job just last month.

Back to that first one: Raih, who played quarterback at Iowa, had only held graduate assistant titles at Iowa and UCLA when he, without a job, took the advice of long-time college coach Rick Neuheisel and fellow quarterback Brooks Bollinger, the latter of whom played with Kingsbury on the New York Jets in 2005.

Unannounced, Raih showed up before 5 a.m. at the Texas Tech football facility in Lubbock, Texas, dressed in a suit and red tie. A security guard let him inside, out of the cold.

He beat the early-rising Kingsbury, and when the coach arrived, they talked. The head coach offered him a position and a desk in a “closet” next to Kingsbury’s office.

“He hired me that day for some, like, position that was — I don’t know what it was,” Raih said. “I ran the walk-on program and assisted with the quarterbacks. You know, because he was the head coach, the coordinator and the quarterback coach.”

One year of recruiting future Heisman winner Baker Mayfield as a walk-on and working under Kingsbury landed Raih a job under Mike McCarthy with the Packers. And in Green Bay over the last five years, he rose from coaching administrator to wide receivers coach.

Raih doesn’t have a social relationship with Kingsbury, he said — just because it’s who both of them are, always talking football and only football. That, and not the sunglasses-wearing cool dude portrayed by detractors, is Kingsbury in a nutshell.

It’s why Raih vouches for his boss and believes this can work.

But what will this look like in football terms?

“It’s primarily going to be Kliff’s offense that he’s going to run, all the terminology, all the concepts,” said passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, who spent 2006-16 with the Packers, working with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

“It’s just a different approach how you get to (those concepts), the different things you might do in the run game to combine the run and the pass game. Just the style of play.”

Clements said his role alongside Kingsbury will parallel that of his role with McCarthy, who spent a good deal of time in the quarterbacks room in his first few years with the Packers.

Like Clements, running backs coach James Sexton joined the staff unfamiliar with Kingsbury. After his contract did not renew with the Pittsburgh Steelers after 2018, Sexton liked the head coach’s demeanor while getting to know him.

The overarching theme from Wednesday, when the Cardinals introduced their offensive assistants to reporters: if the most-criticized head-coaching hire of this offseason fails in Arizona, it’s not because of crazy football ideas or a lack of readiness to take on the job.

“The best thing he does is football. And football is football, and the thing about football, it’s about the discipline and the training,” Raih said. “There’s elements of his offense … there’s concepts that are already being run.

“Point is, it’s going to be fine.”


— Clements watched Josh Rosen’s entire collection of game film during his rookie year and aside from believing in his arm talent said he was surprised about Rosen’s mobility.

“We always used to say they’re going to be seven to 10 times a game where the quarterback is going to have to move around. It’s probably more than that now,” Clements said. “Those are things he did better than I expected. When he had a clean pocket, when he had time to throw, looked to me like there wasn’t a throw he couldn’t make.”

— Kingsbury’s use of the running and passing game in concert with one another is likely where his offense differs from others in the NFL and other Air Raid schemes, as Clements said. ESPN’s Matt Bowen broke down film of those variations and philosophies earlier this offseason.

Raih mentioned that the Cardinals were in a meeting earlier this week with the offensive staff discussion routes that running back David Johnson might run.

Added Sexton of Johnson’s expected role in the passing game: “That’s going to be something that Coach Kingsbury is going to decide. I’m going to coach him whatever way he’s going to be coach. I’m just here to do that.”

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