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Fitz, Kingsbury grow mutual respect over work, and on Monday, supper

Cardinals players Budda Baker, Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald at the 11th Fitz's Supper Club charity event in Scottsdale on Aug. 26, 2019. (Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Kliff Kingsbury’s foray into the NFL world after six years coaching at Texas Tech has its perks.

There are no late-night texts about young players getting in trouble, no more worrying about whether they went to class or showed up for a team meal. In fact, on Monday, it was the Arizona Cardinals’ most famous player feeding his head coach.

Larry Fitzgerald welcomed Kingsbury as a guest to the annual Fitz’s Supper Club at Dominick’s Steakhouse in Scottsdale, a charity event to raise donations for the Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund. Starting at $850 a ticket, dinner guests were treated to a meal with their money going toward K-12 education and breast cancer prevention and survivor support.

It was the 11th version of the event, a testament to No. 11’s staying power not only in football but the community. But Monday also marked an opportunity for Kingsbury, in his first year in Arizona and the NFL, to gain more appreciation for his star player’s greater impact.

“Being football all the time has really been something that I’ve embraced,” Kingsbury said at the team facility Monday, before the dinner. “Being around guys like (Terrell) Suggs and Fitz and Pat (Peterson), real leaders, has been awesome. That part of (the job) has been a real pleasant surprise.”

The player-coach relationship is a two-way street.

Kingsbury’s credibility with players like Fitzgerald, who is just four years younger than him, manifests in different ways than did the colorful personality of former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians or Arians’ ever-serious successor, Steve Wilks.

Fitzgerald said he’s grown fond of his new head coach — the third in the last three years — as Arizona prepares to open the season against the Detroit Lions on Sept. 8, exactly seven months after Kingsbury was hired.

“I’ve gotten to know him really well. He’s a really, really intelligent guy,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s really insightful and you know, I really appreciate his intellectual curiosity in terms of the input that he gets from his players and his coaches. I just think he’s got a wealth of knowledge.

“Every day in practice he talks to you about this, ‘I got a play: Is there anything you guys think that could make it more efficient?'” the receiver added. “He wants the guys who are going to be on the field … to buy in completely about what’s going on and why it’s going to work. I’ve never had anything like that. It’s unique.”


From the other side of the coach-player relationship, it’s probable Kingsbury was ready to be more impressed by his star player as he walked off the Rolls-Royce-sponsored red carpet Monday and into the steakhouse.

Even Arizona receiver and second-year pro Christian Kirk, who grew up in the Valley and has been exposed to Fitzgerald’s community outreach for years, continues to be floored by Fitzgerald’s impact.

“I take notes,” Kirk said. “When I have the opportunity to come out to any of his events and just see how it’s ran, how it’s all so organized and obviously one day work to be able to get to that point, whichever way to give back to the community and be able to develop a foundation.”

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