Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury takes growing confidence into year 2
Kliff Kingsbury is feeling good about his future. That’s a stark contrast to how he felt following his first half of regular-season football in Arizona.
“I’m not exaggerating,” Kingsbury said in an interview with the Ryen Russillo Podcast. “I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe I just bought that house. I’m gonna be here two games and they’re gonna fire me.’ That was the highest anxiety I’ve ever had on the sidelines. Truly anything we tried was a complete disaster.”
Kingsbury’s startling admission regarding a Week 1 tie with the Lions reveals just how much pressure he felt after catapulting to the top of the NFL food chain.
He was a college head coach fired by his alma mater, quickly latching on to a coordinator’s job at USC. He was plucked away without ever calling a play for the Trojans and unexpectedly promoted to the big leagues by Cardinals GM Steve Keim. It was a controversial, unconventional maneuver that drew critics and skeptics alike.
Hallelujah. Nobody talks about “pretty boy football” anymore.
It’s also clear that Kingsbury likes his chances moving forward. Otherwise, he wouldn’t dare reveal such fear and weakness in a media interview. And he should feel optimistic.
In year one, Kingsbury showed humility and adaptability. He treated players as peers. He listened to assistant coach Sean Kugler when offensive lineman grew disenchanted with his offense. He produced a huge spike in offensive statistics. A five-win season felt like tangible progress.
Kingsbury will learn from his mistakes. His red-zone tactics will improve. He’ll get better at dialing up clutch drives at the end of games. He’ll coach with less trepidation in all situations, liberated from the fear that occasionally paralyzed him in 2019. His admission from the Lions game is proof of how constricted he must’ve felt at times, a young coach carrying a heavy burden of proof, trying hard not to panic.
Just like Kyler Murray, Kingsbury knows stuff about the NFL that he didn’t know 10 months ago. That’s why their growing alliance is so appealing to fans and media alike, in Arizona and beyond.
There will be immediate challenges. Kingsbury must expand his offense and the skills of Murray. He must find a way to integrate Andy Isabella’s breakneck speed and better assimilate David Johnson, especially if the Cardinals can’t re-sign Kenyan Drake.
But Kingsbury has a grip now. He has six games of experience against the Ravens, Saints, Seahawks and 49ers. He’s lived through road games in Baltimore, Seattle and New Orleans. He endured the nuisance of Thursday Night Football. He posted a pair of three-game winning streaks and sailed through the maelstrom of a five-game losing streak.
He rallied from every low-point of the season, from the terrifying feeling of Week 1; to head-coaching blunders in successive games against the Saints and 49ers; to that terrible loss to Uncle Bruce in Tampa.
In the process, he earned heavy praise from team president and chairman, Michael Bidwill.
“I think the biggest takeaway is you look at his play-calling from Week 1 to Week 17, and how he evolved as a play-caller in the National Football League, how he kept such a positive momentum and positive attitude with this team, even (during) a losing streak that went longer than we wanted it to,” Bidwill told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Doug & Wolf during Newsmakers Week.
“The guys really had confidence in his offense, in his leadership and I think he did a great job.”
Those comments should liberate and empower Kingsbury, who will surely grow in voice and status in the coming seasons. If things don’t improve on the other side of the ball, he might have to hire a defensive coordinator in 2021. But Bidwill’s glowing praise of Kingsbury should ease any fears that the NFL is an acronym that means Not for Long.
And it should make him feel a lot better about that new house he purchased in the Valley.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.