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Kliff Kingsbury is in love with football: Ask him or ESPN’s Joe Tessitore

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals watches from the sidelines during the NFL preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers at State Farm Stadium on August 08, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Chargers 17-13. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Another somewhat meaningless preseason game puts the Arizona Cardinals center stage.

ESPN’s Monday Night Football crew led by play-by-play man Joe Tessitore will call their Thursday matchup against the Oakland Raiders, the talk of the NFL because of a featured role on “Hard Knocks.”

Oakland receiver Antonio Brown’s recent threat to end his football career over a football helmet controversy only spiced things up.

The Cardinals have their storylines as well. Thursday will mark their national introduction of Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, the controversial hire expected to bring offensive innovation to a team coming off a 3-13 season.

Is he going to fail as a Ryan Gosling lookalike hired for spectacle, the thought leading talking heads like Stephen A. Smith to rant very loudly against his hire? Or is Kingsbury’s real personality — the self-disciplined football nut — going to prove doubters wrong?

What’s no doubt true is that Kingsbury is an efficient, straightforward football guy. He made that clear while answering a facetious question about Brown’s helmet kerfuffle on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Bickley & Marotta this week.

“… Have you ever fallen so in love with a helmet that you’re willing to walk away from the game?” co-host Vince Marotta asked Kingsbury on Monday.

“I haven’t fallen in love with a woman that I’m willing to walk away from the game for,” Kingsbury retorted.

That was a joke.

But it’s also the truth if you ask anyone in the Cardinals facility about their head coach.

Tessitore believes it, too.

Before he became the lead voice for Monday Night Football last season, Tessitore was an ESPN play-by-play announcer in the college ranks. He got to know Kingsbury during that time, and he doesn’t see a different coach from the one that led Texas Tech from 2013-18.

“You know what’s funny about Kliff … he is a football guy to the core,” Tessitore told 98.7 FM’s Doug & Wolf on Wednesday. “OK, the way he looks and the swag he has and all the ‘Coach Bro’ B.S. that’s just a label, that’s whatever — you can completely throw it out.

“This is a football guy, this is a grinder. This is a guy who has an unparalleled passion for the sport and for offense and growing up the son of a coach, and a guy you have to throw out of the film room. He’s the same guy.”

Kingsbury led Texas Tech to an underwhelming 35-40 record in six years there. While his offenses were always prolific, there’s no argument he must prove that can translate to the NFL.

The Cardinals must also prove their unique piecing-together of Kingsbury’s coaching staff can work. He has put most of his focus into the quarterbacks room and offensive play-calling, giving defensive coordinator Vance Joseph the pressure of managing a roster with a few holes and even more depth issues on that side of the ball.

But ask those around the Cardinals, or Tessitore, and the answers are the same.

Kingsbury knows how to prepare for the game and knows how to lead. Whatever happens next shouldn’t be an indictment on his work ethic or his resume.

“He’s also a guy who’s really great to hang with and is laid-back and conversational and thoughtful,” Tessitore said. “There has never been a time when I’ve been with Kliff in all the years of doing his games — and back even when he was an assistant and a young play-caller and doing his bowl games when he was (a player) at Tech — where the first thing he doesn’t do is not remember your kids, remember your family situation, ask how everybody’s doing and just be a good, social, likable guy.

“First and foremost, he’s likable. He’s a real likable guy, but he’s a football guy to the core.”

Doug & Wolf

Bickley & Marotta

Cardinals Interviews and Podcasts