DAN BICKLEY

Kingsbury’s turnaround with Cardinals starting to silence some doubters

Oct 8, 2021, 3:51 PM | Updated: Oct 9, 2021, 1:07 pm
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals looks on during the second quarter in the game ...
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals looks on during the second quarter in the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on September 26, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Six weeks ago, Kliff Kingsbury’s seat was the hottest in professional football. Now he is among the early favorites to win NFL Coach of the Year.

This is a stunning development. It’s proof that life can change in an instant. Especially when you have a budding superstar at quarterback.

Kingsbury can claim another small chunk of history on Sunday, becoming the first 5-0 head coach since the team moved to Arizona in 1988. He just beat the Rams in Los Angeles, snapping Sean McVay’s eight-game winning streak against the Cardinals. It will be a powerful encore if he beats the NFC West’s other resident genius (Kyle Shanahan).

As a columnist who called for Kingsbury’s head after the Great Collapse of 2020, I will be honored to say I was wrong, that patience was both deserved and rewarded. It’s far too early for any of that just yet. But after two underwhelming seasons at the helm, it appears fortune is smiling on the 42-year old head coach.

His first two victories came against the Titans and Vikings. One was a clinic, the other a stroke of good fortune. Both times, the losing team was so riled up they rallied to beat the Seahawks the following week, further helping the Cardinals.

Meanwhile, Russell Wilson and Jimmy Garoppolo are currently injured; Matthew Stafford hasn’t looked like an elite quarterback in Los Angeles; Baker Mayfield, the opposing quarterback in Week 6, has a partially torn labrum; and if the Cardinals handle the shorthanded 49ers on Sunday, they will sit atop the NFC West while flaunting a three-game lead over the Seahawks and 49ers.

Kingsbury’s teams also have a history of fading badly down the stretch. That trend must be reversed. Somewhere, there is an opposing defensive coordinator scheming new ways to contain Kyler Murray, the evil whiteboard geniuses who will stop at nothing to unplug Arizona’s offense. Kingsbury must have answers to that test already prepared. He has dragons left to slay.

There have always been fundamental flaws with the unconventional hiring of Kingsbury. I remain unconvinced that a NFL head coach can lift a team without requisite strength of personality, that special blend of arrogance, charisma, ego and the ability to instill fear. But general manager Steve Keim was shrewd to import better leaders inside the locker room, to lessen that burden on Kingsbury. And there is no denying the great vibe coming off the 2021 Cardinals, a group that obviously appreciates Kingsbury’s feathery touch.

Then again, everything is wonderful when you’re the last unbeaten team in the NFL.

But I am also inclined to embrace a head coach like Kingsbury. Because he is not the dreaded archetype, the joyless control freak who sucks oxygen out of a room. Kingsbury never gets in the way of credit that rightfully belongs to the men in uniform. And in recent weeks, he’s actually starting to show some of his personality during press conferences.

Kingsbury told funny anecdotes about Johnny Manziel during their shared time at Texas A&M; he made fun of his college coaching career before a game against Urban Meyer and he compared himself to “Ted Lasso,” the unlikely head coach of a soccer team in a hit television show.

I doubt we’ll ever see Kingsbury dancing with his players again like he once did at Texas Tech. It is a long way from here to Coach of the Year. But for the first time, Kingsbury might actually be enjoying himself in his unexpected role of NFL head coach.

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