Level of Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s job security troublesome
Kliff Kingsbury has all the luck. Except when it comes to winning football games that matter.
He was gifted a big job he never earned for reasons he needn’t explain. He was fired by his college alma mater, promptly landed a plum offensive coordinator’s job in Southern California and somehow woke up from that dream as one of 32 NFL head coaches.
No one should apologize for their good fortune. Not even Kingsbury. No matter how much jealousy he inspires.
Except Kingsbury is receiving a level of job security that is also extremely rare in the NFL, and that is troublesome.
The Cardinals head coach is 24-25-1 after 50 games. His arc of yearly progression is nullified/negated by teams that consistently collapse down the stretch. In really big games, Kingsbury is no different than Steve Wilks, a gifted specialist overmatched in the big chair.
In Los Angeles, head coach Sean McVay is famous for his total recall and infectious personality; his condensed formations that open up the edges of a football field; and his devastating command of play-action football. In tough times, his recipe is timeless.
In San Francisco, Kyle Shanahan is celebrated for physical teams that reject all excuses; for elite halftime adjustment; and for perfecting a zone blocking rushing scheme his father introduced to the NFL. In tough times, his recipe is also timeless.
By comparison, Kingsbury has posted three winning seasons in nine years at the helm. That doesn’t fit the profile associated with most impact head coaches. After three years in Arizona, his Cardinals still elude description, a team with zero offensive identity. He is further proof the NFL is no place for delegators and those who prefer to defer.
Certainly no place for Air Raid coaches who never won much in college.
By contrast, team owner Michael Bidwill gave Steve Wilks just one season on the job, despite the offensive liabilities he inherited with quarterback Josh Rosen and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.
In Arizona, no one complained when Wilks was quickly jettisoned. We all saw the futility with our own eyes. Just like we are now.
The Kingsbury experiment is beginning to feel like a Hail Mary followed by a two-point conversion followed by an onside kick. We’ve seen too many of those lately, when Arizona’s second-half failures are as predictable as pumpkin porters in late October.
So why all this patience and tolerance with Kingsbury, who lost five of his last seven games to squander a playoff berth in Year 2; and lost five of his last six games in 2021-22 to squander a NFC West title in Year 3, including a disastrous playoff debut?
Maybe this is political football from General Manager Steve Keim, who does not want the scrutiny of another failed head coach. Maybe it’s an ominous sign that Kyler Murray is a holy handful behind the scenes, harder to manage than anyone can imagine, a quarterback gifted with everything but leadership and toughness and all that stuff that matters near the finish line.
The level of internal belief will be on display in the coming months. Will key members like James Conner, Chandler Jones and Zach Ertz accept team-friendly deals to remain part of a really good thing in Arizona? Will they resemble the Suns, where Chris Paul, Cam Payne and JaVale McGee placed an obvious premium on playing in Phoenix?
Even more telling, will backup quarterback Colt McCoy stay in Arizona after his sturdy performance this past season just to mentor Murray to the finish line? Does he feel he’s contributing to a Hall of Fame career? Or has he seen enough?
Facts can’t hide on a football field. Neither can weaknesses. The Cardinals have plenty of both.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6-10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.